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Album Review: Emperor of Sand by Mastodon

Seminal American Heavy Metal act Mastodon release their seventh studio album, Emperor of Sand, on 31st March via Reprise Records. The concept and story in Emperor of Sand follows a desert wanderer who has been handed a death sentence. Themes of death and survival are woven into the song’s lyrics, which were inspired by experiences members of the band had when family and friends were recently diagnosed with cancer.

“At the end of the story, the person simultaneously dies and is saved,” Drummer Brann Dailor said. “It’s about going through cancer, going through chemotherapy and all the things associated with that. I didn’t want to be literal about it. But it’s all in there. You can read between the lines.”

“We’re reflecting on mortality,” bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders said in a statement. “To that end, the album ties into our entire discography. It’s 17 years in the making, but it’s also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives.”

As such Emperor of Sand continues the natural evolution of Mastodon. 2009’s Crack The Sky marked a tentative move towards a more accessible sound, 2011’s The Hunter went for it with a leap into an easier on the ear progressive metal sound. Once More ‘Round The Sun (2014) mixed hard rock with sludge metal. View Emperor of Sand as a combination of the finest points of all three records.

It pushes the bands progressive elements, with tracks like ‘Precious Stones’ and ‘Roots Remain’ being right at the top end of progressive metal. As to be expected, Mastodon retain the ability to be devastatingly heavy when they want to be – ‘Steambreather’ opens with a cacophony of crushing riffs with the power harnessed and channelled throughout the rest of the track. That’s not to say the progressive moments aren’t heavy, the aforementioned ‘Roots Remain’ combines intricate riffs and a complex structure within the tradition heavy metal frame. It’s ambition and grandiose nature is summed up perfectly in the delicious guitar solo in the sixth minute.

Both ‘Words to the Wise’ and ‘Ancient Kingdom’ tread the line between all heavy metal and the more accessible side to the band. Here you’ll find some of the bands best riffs sitting alongside their best hooks. The blistering power of ‘Clandestiny’ is a joy and album closer ‘Jaguar Gold’ goes for a moving slice of classic metal, but it’s in lead single ‘Show Yourself’ that you’re reminded how far Mastodon have come. Sure, it may be their most accessible track to date, but it sits perfectly beside the heavier moments and shows the bands aren’t afraid to push their boundaries.

AD Rating 8/10

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