Emperor of Sand reviews
Pariksit on January 19th, 2018
Emperor Of Sand
The seventh studio album by Mastodon is a concept album based on the concept of time and death, as the title hints. It falls into a more progressive spectrum than their last two efforts. The band works with producer Brendan O'Brien who also appeared with the band in their 2009 album Crack the Skye.
The lyrical contents of the album are inspired by the fragility of life and how time defines aspects of survival. A story is told once again here in an epic and orderly fashion. The lyrics provide a sense of exploration as the listener finds what the band means by them, and they work even better when interpreted according to the listener. The three vocalists have surely improved on their melodies, and the vocals can be considered as some of the best efforts they have put out in their discography.
Mastodon return to their heavy, riff-based roots along with their evergrowing progressive structures. The albums surely contains of a lot of riffs that are heavier than their last albums, and also are more memorable. Songs like Andromeda, Steambreather and Sultan's Curse are classic riffs that the quartet are known to put out. The album is not as technically brilliant as some of their classics, but still possesses a vast construct and feels big enough to listen to. The band has kept the very accessible sound, and combined it with a signature methods. The albums ends with, possibly one of the best song on the record, Jaguar God, which ties up the whole album very satisfyingly.
The most controversial part of the album is probably the track Show Yourself, in which the band takes a very mainstream approach in its structure, instantly making very catchy and also a subject to some divisions. Although, the song is more relevant when one hears the rest of the album because of its lyrical relevance. The album gets better with each listen, as the themes and story gets explored over time.
Overall, its a good album which reflects more on its concepts and has huge emotional aspects in regards to the ideas portrayed.
caspian on January 3rd, 2018
Emperor of SUCK
Man, this completely sucks. I'm not sure what I was expecting, as Hunter had a whole bunch of problems, and I never made it through Once More Round the Sun. Suffice to say it's hard to imagine that these were the same guys that made all those cool records """"""back in the day""""""""""".
Essentially, Mastodon have become really vocal driven, which is far as decisions go is on par with invading Russia in the middle of winter. All their best stuff, Capillarian Crest, all of Crack the Skye, most of Leviathan etc etc was about a bunch of cool guitar lines with a few sludge-ish "Aged nautical dude" kinda vocals thrown around to give it a bit of context.
Here, well, we've got a lotta high, kinda whiny, certainly aimless clean vocals- think Josh Homme but a lot worse- over the least interesting guitar parts Mastodon have ever done. The vocals aren't *terrible*, merely annoying, but they just clearly can't write interesting vocal lines or decent choruses to save their lives. I'm not adverse to vocal heavy shit, the black album remains a favourite. But none of the Mastodon dudes sound as good as '91 Hetfield, and certainly none of them have the catchy songwriting chops of 91 Hetfield either.
Things blend into a mush pretty quickly. Vaguely techy guitar part- bunch of pointless vocals- brief jam (man, what happened to the drummer? he's never sounded less interested)- more pointless singing- perhaps a solo or two which no, you won't remember- rinse and repeat. I'm sure it's all fairly hard to play to guitar, and they put some thoughts into the arrangements and whatnot but it just sounds so incredibly blah. I get that Mastodon were perhaps sick of doing long form concept albums, but there's gotta be better ways to come down from that then stuff like this. You've really gotta wonder why no one in the band, or the band's friends, etc etc decided that the clean vocals don't work, that the end result is basically vaguely proggy/hard to play stoner rock that no one is ever gonna remember.. Maybe a brief, rather punky album was the way forward? Perhaps something in a far more traditional vein? Just 60 minutes of prog noodles, hire a keyboardist etc? A short, 30 minute blast of the mathiest, wankiest stuff they could play? Cmon dudes, it's not that hard to come up with something better.
I don't really have much of a concluding paragraph beyond "this is fairly below average and you're better off avoiding it".
MrMetalpants on July 28th, 2017
A welcome return to form.
It's a welcome return to see the band get back to making a cohesive and sprawling theme album. If their first 4 albums are fire, water, earth, and air/ether, then Emperor of Sand would be... Time? The writing process had to do with band member's family members getting cancer and dealing with the process. The loose story of the album is a wanderer is stranded in a desert and meets The Emperor of Sand who tells the wanderer that he will die after a short time. I feel it's time, rather than death because time is featured on Precious Stones, Roots Remain, Andromeda, a bit on Scorpionbreath, not only the word itself, but the theme of time.
The instrumentation is both simpler and more complex than previous albums. Brann Dailor's drumming (Which is normally filled to the brim with fills) is toned down a little bit to make way for increased vocal responsibility. It is mind boggling trying to air drum the beats AND sing the song. Kudos. On that note, It seems to almost the vocals are split down the middle between Troy and Brann. Both of them have gotten so much better over time. Keep it up! Brent comes in less often with his soulful and gritty melodies. The crazy fast lead hammer-on/pull-off noodly parts on lead guitar (Oh you know what I mean) are more complex than ever before, but they lost some of the charm in it. Before there was a tune and structure to them, now the novelty is just technical for the sake of technicality. This seems the right place to put this next part: There is too much tambourine (and triangle, where applicable). The first time I listened to it, the tambourine scraped my eardrum like a rusty nail. Okay, put it on "Show Yourself". It belongs on that track. In every other instance, it was an annoyance. By the 3rd listen I was able to tune it out, thank goodness...
The writing is nice in that, unlike the last two albums, there is a definite theme throughout the album. They have a lot of symbolism and hidden meaning in their songs, but I feel like on EoS, they hit a new level of symbolism. Maybe I'm just more familiar with what they're trying to say on it and I'm paying attention. When I bought Blood Mountain on day one, all I new about it was that I loved their previous 3 albums. Same goes for all the releases after until this one. I read a lot of interviews with the band members, for better or worse.
I will say as a warning that there are some songs will turn many away. I'm looking at you, "Show Yourself". That one eventually grew on me, as long as I don't think about it being Mastodon. So if you've started to think this is a complete return to form, you'll be mistaken. They have gotten their old style back, but a lot of the songs are still trying to be accessible to all. The catchy lyrics are everywhere, with the sacrficie of heaviness or technicality. Still, it's undeniably the one and only Mastodon.
Technical Skill: 72% Album Structure: 88% Sound Quality: 80% Originality: 90% Writing: 86%
Agonymph on June 25th, 2017
Mastodon's best elements combined
Out of all popular contemporary metal bands, Mastodon is the only one I can get behind. I respect how little they care about genre boundaries or belonging to a certain scene. From day one, they have chosen their own path and there is always a possibility that a new album is not going to sound anything like its predecessor. Curveballs like their 2009 psychedelic metal masterpiece ‘Crack The Skye’ are probably a thing of the past, as every record that followed attempted to combine the best aspects of their discography thus far, but none of them quite succeeds as well as ‘Emperor Of Sand’ does.
‘Emperor Of Sand’ is the record on which Mastodon learned to do all the things they already did a lot better. Their riffs are still heavy and not too fast, there is an abundance of classy twin guitar harmonies, drummer Brann Dailor still lays down some downright incredible fills and yet, it all sounds just a little better than before. The highly melodic hooks that started appearing around the turn of the decade are integrated into the heavy songs a lot better than ever and the increasing classic rock influences mix with the band’s heavy metal and hardcore roots more satisfyingly.
More importantly, the compositions are extremely interesting. Mastodon has clearly made an effort to make every section of the song be a new climax, which is especially beneficial to songs with a lot of drama, such as ‘Roots Remain’ and the epic closer ‘Jaguar God’. As stated before, the melodic choruses are still here, some songs even have several hooks, but they feel less like an attempt to cross over to the pop rock audience. Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds have always been experts at weaving distinct guitar lines through each other and that feature of the band gets all the place it needs on ‘Emperor Of Sand’. Their bombastic sound helps. Hinds’ synth guitar in ‘Clandestiny’ adds an extra dimension to the sound.
In addition, the triple lead vocal assault seems to work better than ever. Dailor is there for the cleans, Hinds switches between a raw snarl and an Ozzy-like voice and bassist Troy Sanders is easily the rawest and most powerful of the three. They feed off each other and complement each other, which adds dynamics to songs like the highly catchy ‘Show Yourself’, dramatic harmonies to ‘Andromeda’ and impressive trade-offs are scattered all over the album. The vocals are not the thing that makes the album though; the guitars and the insane drumming are. As always.
While I will always be partial to ‘Crack The Skye’, Mastodon has really outdone itself on ‘Emperor Of Sand’. They have finally succeeded in combining all of their best qualities in a way that sounds “fluent”, for lack of a better term. I am somewhat reluctant to call the music on this record progressive metal, as the term conjures up images of Dream Theater clones, but it is a fact that this is the work of a metal band that wants to keep moving forward, with their virtuosity helping them rather than getting in the way of the songs. Quite an impressive feat, which makes ‘Emperor Of Sand’ one of the best metal albums released this year.
Recommended tracks: ‘Ancient Kingdom’, ‘Jaguar God’, ‘Steambreather’, ‘Roots Remain’
Originally written for my Kevy Metal weblog.
Mastocat on May 9th, 2017
Emperor of Sand
“The worst part about Emperor of Sand,” my friend said to me, “is that its weakest song is a total earworm.” The album is good, others have said, but we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? . How can the apologist for Mastodon’s post-Crack the Skye discography respond to these detractors?
Mastodon’s latest opus is a concept album in the vein of its first four LPs. It is one centred around themes of loss inspired by the band members’ personal encounters with death and life-threatening illness—with cancer, more specifically. Like Mastodon’s now classic (albeit controversial) Crack the Skye, however, the connection between the fantastical narrative of the lyrics and the personal turmoil underlying them is somewhat veiled. “I didn't want to be literal about it,” drummer and vocalist Brann Dailer—the group’s main lyricist—explains, “but it's all in there. You can read between the lines” .
Regardless of one’s commitment to understanding and deciphering the album’s concept, the lyrical content comes across as some of Mastodon’s most imaginative and poignant yet. Consider Brann’s vocal entrance to the album; his powerful and pure voice belting out the lines—“Oceans of sand and mist/ Give way and yield my wake”—or his bittersweet call four songs later—“And when you sit and picture me/ Remember sitting in the sun and dancing in the rain”.
Following his debut as the group's third lead vocalist three albums earlier, Brann’s singing role in the band has expanded to the point that he and bassist Troy Sanders are heard sharing vocal duties nearly in half on Emperor. At the same time, guitarist Brent Hind’s voice has come to be used sparingly but all the more impactfully. Undeniably, this is the trio of singers’ finest performances so far.
As always with these metal giants, it goes without saying that the instrumental performances supporting these voice-oriented songs are phenomenal. Much of the riffwork, we are told, is composed by Bill Kelliher—whose rhythm playing is beyond reproach on this album. Brent Hind’s solos—captured in massive guitar tones—tear through your body, while Troy’s basslines sit powerfully in the pocket. And Brann’s distinctive fill-heavy style behind the kit shines through undiminished, though occasionally simplified to support his vocals.
One hears elements of Mastodon’s earlier work throughout Emperor. Of course, the album continues to traverse the groovy but progressive metal / rock terrain of The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun. Die-hard sludge metal fans who exited the band’s audience after Crack the Skye are not given much reason to return to the band now. Yet one also finds riffs reminiscent of Blood Mountain in the ultra-heavy “Roots Remain” and “Andromeda”. To some extent, one must concede to the detractors that Mastodon does not chart much new territory here. Sure, the driving drums during the guitar solo section of “Ancient Kingdom” introduce a striking, lively jazz feel we’ve not heard from them before, but on the whole Mastodon continue the slow evolution that has amounted over time to a 180 degree turn since their debut Remission.
Most of the controversy surrounding that evolution is fueled by difference of taste. As such, all an apologist for Mastodon’s post-Crack the Skye discography can do is appeal to the tastes of similar tongues out there. What they can expect to find is a album with a cinematic narrative and musical arc, and a strong sense of identity. The peaks of this journey through Emperor's desertscape are the crushing opener "Saltan's Curse", epic closer "Jaguar God", the bouncing, blusey "Steambreather", the eclectic "Ancient Kingdom" and, for the audience that's long renounced its metal elitism, the welcome earworm, "Show Yourself".
Valfars%20Ghost on April 22nd, 2017
Progressivism and restraint: together at last
With their latest album, Mastodon moves closer to the conceptual ambitions of Crack the Skye after a few years of taking a more laidback approach to music. For those of you who couldn’t stay awake through Mastodon’s polarizing fourth full-length, you may be happy to learn that the band is much more restrained here than they were on Skye. This time around, the band manages to curb its excesses, both in terms of long-winded song structures and complex playing, gifting us with a concept album fully dedicated to its own otherworldly vibes without ever seeming to go overboard with any of the tricks it employs.
A concept album about a solitary man wandering in the desert that’s supposed to be symbolic of struggles with cancer, Emperor of Sand does a commendable job of staying thematically consistent in terms of the sounds on display. Mastodon weaves a familiar tapestry out of dense guitar lines, mystical atmospherics, tasteful, expressive soloing and a melange of vocal approaches ranging from chant-like singing to roars that somehow sound both distant and forceful. Though a few of these songs are built on muscular riffs, like the punishing march that makes up about half of album opener ‘Sultan’s Curse’, Mastodon is largely de-emphasizing the bombastic shows of force that were so prominent on albums like Leviathan, perhaps best exemplified by drummer Brann Dailor's calmer, more measured approach to bashing the skins. He hasn't quite abandoned his maximalist, fill-heavy style but that sort of all-out drum punishment only appears every now and then on Emperor.
‘Show Yourself’ is the most recognizable track here because it’s the only one clearly written with radio airplay in mind, making it something of an outlier. It’s a straight-forward, entertaining modern rocker that could have been written for The Hunter or Once More ’Round the Sun. It’s more direct and simplistic than the other tracks here, devoid of that complex mystical-sounding ambience Mastodon loves so much, but still manages to fit in with the album’s overall sonic landscape.
The rest of this offering is a homogeneous assortment of songs that melt into each other a bit. Emperor is clearly intended to be one journey rather than a collection of songs. From the swirls of mesmerizing leads in 'Precious Stones' to the calm but eerie verses in 'Steambreather' to the madcap but not at all out of place solo in 'Roots Remain', the album flows from one track to the next. Along the way, there are plenty of strong solos, emotive interludes, rousing choruses, and transitions so smooth you don't even realize the song is changing. Though there aren't really any dull moments (with the exception of parts of 'Roots Remain' and 'Ancient Kingdom', both of which drag a bit), Emperor isn't going to blow your mind. If the Mastodon of old's mixture of kinetic playing and bizarre atmosphere is exactly what you want out of this album, you won't be thoroughly wowed, though people who find their past excesses irritating might find this more conservative incarnation of the Atlanta quartet refreshing.
If you demand a simple summation of what this album is, you're in luck: Emperor of Sand is a skillful balancing act between the accessibility of The Hunter and the progressive tendencies of Crack the Skye. By blending what works in both albums, the product we're left with manages to avoid the issues they had but sadly doesn't quite reach the impressive heights both of those achieve in their brightest moments.
RichardDeBenthall on March 31st, 2017
Finally, we know who they are!
Mastodon are one of today's most popular metal bands so it's no surprise that they seem to be one of the more divisive bands on this forum. Simultaneously lauded by the faithful and chastised by the elite for their constantly shifting approach to the genre, I can understand why people enjoy and dislike Mastodon in equal measure. Since 2004's 'Leviathan' Mastodon have been on a 10+ year identity crisis, struggling to come to terms with their identity as the leaders of a burgeoning sludge metal scene whilst wanting to explore their other tastes in progressive rock as well as simpler, radio friendly fare.
After taking a step away from the riff-tastic 'Leviathan' and insane 'Blood Mountain', Mastodon reached a critical peak with 2009's vastly more progressive 'Crack The Skye'. Then Mastodon surprised their fans yet again with the 2011 follow up album 'The Hunter', which was as different from 'Crack The Skye' as that was from 'Leviathan'. This release further expanded their resume to include radio friendly, but still heavy and satisfying, heavy metal. In Brann Dailor's own words, Mastodon wanted to write an album that would be played at beer swilling parties. They achieved this end wonderfully and while that release covered a lot of old ground as well, it left a great deal of the old school Mastodon fans feeling a little cold. Its true, 'The Hunter' and 2014's similar 'Once More Around the Sun' were far cries from the brutality of 'Leviathan' and 'Remission'.
Now, fast forward to the present and Mastodon occupy an unusual position in the metal world. Like Opeth, they have managed to alienate many of their earlier fans while winning the favour of newer, less extreme fans. Taking too far a step backwards at this point could run the risk of both alienating their new fans and give rise to claims of being 'disingenuous' or 'fake' by older fans. Taking another step off the plank into a sea of progressive and psychedelic self indulgence would most likely permanently divorce them from their old fans while also potentially disillusioning their new fans who were just there for the beer, riffs and choruses.
What then to do? The answer is' Emperor of Sand'. This album is a concise capture of everything this band has set out to explore since 'Leviathan'. Watching the 'Making Of...' videos on Youtube, it's clear that the overwhelming modus operandi of this album was to bring back some of the heaviness that many felt were lacking on the previous three releases, whilst still keeping a foot firmly in their recent experiments. The three singles released, 'Sultan's Curse', 'Show Yourself' and 'Andromeda' are in fact a great capture of the ground that this album covers. 'Show Yourself' is a clear reference to 'Hunter's' poppier fare, 'Sultan's Curse' a reference to the slower epic moments of 'Skye' and 'Blood Mountain and the interesting 'Andromeda' is a chaotic maelstrom of old school Mastodon riffs, frenetic guitar harmonies and transcendent choral arrangements.
On first listen this album sometimes threatens to become a little vacuous. You hear the hooks, you hear the riffs and the solos and think "Yeah, this is Mastodon but I'm not feeling much". Anyone that's familiar with gut-punching songs like 'Blood & Thunder' or sorrowful epics like 'The Hunter' or 'The Czar', will admit that Mastodon have a great but often under utilized ability to really make you feel something. It's only after the 4th or so playthrough that the sheer amount of focus and love that has been poured into this record becomes apparent. There are very few moments of excess, everything seems to be in its right place and in its right quantity. In 'Andromeda' the huge riff, which we haven't heard anything like from Mastodon since Blood Mountain, quickly gives way to frantic noodling and a spacey guitar solo. Nothing seems to linger to the point of boredom.
Just when you've had a poppier song thrown your way, 'Emperor' throws you a more progressive curveball followed by a thunderous riff monster, as is the case with the middle three tracks of 'Steambreather', 'Roots Remain' and 'Words to the Wise'. Highlighting their hooky, proggy and heavy nature, the album seems to have achieved perfect balance with the provision of these three key Mastodon elements. Every listen leaves me more and more impressed with just how well honed they have made this album.
Performance wise there is little in the way of criticism. Sure, Mastodon's three vocal attack is a bit love it or hate it (especially with regards to Mr. Hinds vocal delivery) but it's a part of Mastodon that I love. Brann has really come into his own as a singer since 'Skye' and he reaches a new career high point on 'Steambreather' where he really is channeling an early 1980's Ozzy in exactly the right way. His drum performance is a little more restrained than we've heard for a while but I do find this fits the album well and there are plenty of moments where he really throws some great fills in the mix. The heavier moments of 'Scorpion Breath' see some of his fastest work since 'Leviathan' too! By all accounts, Bill is the riff man of Mastodon and this album really sees some of his best work in a a long time, notably in the heavier parts of 'Jaguar God' and the already mentioned 'Andromeda'. My stand out performance has to go to Brent Hinds as ever, who I genuinely feel is the most impressive guitar soloist of our age. His solo at the end of 'Jaguar God' in particular had me out in chills and is now my major album highlight.
Despite the above, it's not all good. I do feel that this album lacks some of the innovation that permeated their earlier work and the fact that it took me several listens to really 'get it' suggests a barrier that some fans may find insurmountable. A criticism could be made that by trying to provide a capture of everything that made them unique, they have instead lost a little of their spirit. However, these doubts seem to be decreasing more and more with every play through. Compared specifically to the last two records, 'Emperor of Sand' seems heavier, better edited, more focused and overall the product of a band which is finally at ease with themselves!
Another reviewer on another site noted that this album feels very much like the summation and perhaps end of an era for Mastodon. For a band that has spent the last decade on an extended identity exercise, I don't think there has ever really been a band that has made such an act so enjoyable for so many people. There are so many examples of bands changing style and being torn apart by fans and critics but Mastodon seems to have somehow maintained their credibility while having a great deal of fun in figuring out who the hell they actually are. What the future holds for them I have no idea at this stage, however I do very much agree that this album see's a summation of the last decade of Mastodon's career and what a wonderful decade it has been!