Probably one of 2014’s most eagerly anticipated records, certainly by me, and one of only a select few that I could see pushing Mount Salem off the top spot from a personal point of view. Full disclosure: I FUCKING love Mastodon. Ever since I head ‘Blood and Thunder’ from ‘Leviathan’ 10 years ago, they have been one of my all time favourite bands, a band whose records I devoured as soon as they were released. But, can ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ stand tall with the likes of ‘Leviathan’, ‘Crack the Skye’ and the imperious ‘Remission’?
First of all, check out that artwork. It’s the definition of an acid trip gone wrong. It’s stunning, and is genuinely making me want to buy the vinyl edition to truly appreciate it. The album opens with ‘Tread Lightly’, an urgent acoustic guitar emerging from silence before the main riff kicks in. It lacks the heft of traditional Mastodon album openers, but since when does this band conform to stereotypes? ‘Tread Lightly’ is more of a majestic reassurance that thunderous prog is still the name of the game here. Troy Sanders has clearly benefitted from his stint in Killer Be Killed already; his roar is clear and firm, providing the accessibility that the music generally doesn’t. Spiralling guitar lines, a trippy solo and we’re off to a triumphant start.
‘The Motherload’ keeps the tempo high. It’s a very psychedelic song, driving singlemindedly forward, replete with odd vocal effects. So far, ‘Once More Round the Sun’ is a much more refined, less thunderous than ‘The Hunter’. Single ‘High Road’ is one of the band’s most anthemic cuts. With a soaring chorus and a damn heavy verse section, it screams ‘instant live classic’. Say what you will, Mastodon probably write the heaviest radio friendly singles you can get. This is fighting with (ironically) Killer Be Killed’s ‘Wings of Feather and Wax’ as my favourite song of the year. It’s got that trademark Mastodon stomp, and a chorus to die for.
The title track is heavier, with the first instances of odd time signatures. It’s a short, sharp burst of what I refer to as ‘Earth Mastodon’. It’s heavy, thick and less complex, as compared to ‘Space Mastodon’, that drop in every progressive nuance you can think of. It’s unashamedly catchy as well, and has those trademark Mastodon moments of spirally guitar melodies underpinned by another virtuoso drumming performance. ‘Space Mastodon’ comes to the fore in second single ‘Chimes at Midnight’, which launches into another dimension. An airy riff soars amongst the clouds, before the force comes back in and kicks it into a higher gear. Another driving slice of thunderous doom, picking up where ‘The Hunter’ left off. ‘Chimes at Midnight’ is probably the most ‘Mastodon’ song Mastodon have ever written.
‘Once More Round the Sun’ is by far Mastodon’s most commercial record. But with most bands that would be a disappointment. With Mastodon, you get some of the catchiest and most memorable songs they’ve ever written, but they never sacrifice that exploratory instinct. This is a record with plenty of weird moments (see ‘Aunt Lisa’), as well as some simply lush vocal interplay. Mastodon may have left the primal roar of ‘Leviathan’ behind, but they’ve embraced a much more adventurous and unique clean vocal style. ‘Asleep in the Deep’ has guest vocals from Valient Himself of Valient Thorr, and while a slightly underwhelming track, has some excellent moments of vocal interplay. It’s a softer, much more melodic track than we are used to, and maybe that’s why I’m a bit unexcited by it.
‘Feast Your Eyes’ showcases some more of that Mastodon groove, and is another fast paced stormer. The band seem to have definitely picked up the speed on some of these tracks, and this one has that brilliant spiralling guitar harmonies that I love so much. ‘Aunt Lisa’ sees the return of those weird ass robotic vocals from ‘Blood Mountain’, while the song pulls out some mathcore structuring and some cool, gang chant vocals at the end. If there was any doubt that Mastodon were embracing the RAWK a bit more, they are now put to rest. ‘Ember City’ thunders along with its soaring choruses, while ‘Halloween’ is another psychedelic juggernaut. ‘Once More Round the Sun’ ends with the obligatory appearance of Neurosis’s Scott Kelly, contributing vocals to epic closer ‘Diamond in the Witch House’.
Mastodon have defied all expectations and produced their most ambitious work since ‘Blood Mountain’. It isn’t as heavy as ‘Leviathan’, nor as epically progressive as ‘Crack teh Skye’. But what it is is the next evolutionary step in Mastodon’s astonishing body of work. A band who couldn’t write the same album again if they tried. Thank FUCK for Mastodon showing us that commercialism doesn’t mean sacrificing defining characteristics nor musical integrity. ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ is a staggering piece of modern progressive metal.