Mastodon Reveal Emperor of Sand, drop new track “Sultan’s Curse”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MuAaxqmJVMA It’s that time again when every two or three years, Mastodon drops a new album. For those not familiar with the band, Mastodon is a metal band to which you can attach numerous sub genre tags (sludge-metal, prog-metal, etc.) hailing from Atlanta. Since their formation in 2000, the band has evolved throughout their career, from 2002’s crushingly heavy Remission, all the way to the hook-laden, catchy songs of 2011’s The Hunter and 2014’s Once More Round The Sun (both garnering multiple Grammy nominations and the latter reaching no. 6 on the Billboard Top 200). Though their sound has changed over the years, they have remained true to one condition: each of their six critically acclaimed albums are packed with crunchy, satisfying riff after riff, as if you took Metallica in their prime, pumped them full of steroids, and crossed them with Neurosis. The quartet of bassist Troy Sanders, guitarist Brent Hinds, guitarist Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor are known for their uniquely creative songwriting and quirky sense of humor. More memorable examples are 2004’s Leviathan, where most of the lyrics are based upon Melville’s opus Moby Dick, and their music video for the 2014 single “The Motherload”, in which a generic metal music video is interrupted by a plethora of dancers holding a twerk-off. However, the band has had its share of personal turmoil in the past few years, and it seems that this will be the premise for their newest album, Emperor of Sand.
In numerous interviews and the behind-the-scenes video recently released on the band’s YouTube account, each member has explained how tragedy has brought them and their music together. For Brann, it was the suicide of his little sister Skye (whose memory was immortalized on 2009’s timeless Crack The Skye), and more recently, the death of Brent’s brother in a hunting accident, the death of Bill’s mother due to cancer, the diagnosis of Troy’s wife with breast cancer. Fittingly, the band has said that their new album will serve as a metaphor for the journey of being diagnosed with cancer, and how it changes your outlook on life. However, expect equal optimism with sorrow on the band’s part, for they have never been the kind to wallow in misery. This we can take away from the beautifully constructed lyrics on their new track “Sultan’s Curse”. But how does it sound?
Beginning with a few ambient chimes, echoing out as if crossing a vast sahara in the dusk, reality is instilled in the form of a crunchy riff recalling the style of the band’s earlier material (for the few who like to complain that the previous two albums were too “poppy”, this single should put them in their place). Troy’s vocal delivery is carried out with a tempered restraint for the verse, giving way to Brent’s trademark nasally (some say Ozzy-esque, and to be clear, “nasally” is not an insult) chorus, under which some incredibly satisfying licks amplify the jam. Midway through the song, Brann joins in with vocals, his clean, more soothing style fitting in with a more human, empathetic element, culminating into another classic Mastodonian solo, tearing towards a finish over sustained vocal harmonies. When the song stops, you are left wanting more, yearning to see where the journey will take you next. Granted, the first listen didn’t really impress me, but for some reason, the second blew me off my feet, and has had the same effect with each subsequent listening.
What Mastodon has done with this song is honestly something I didn’t expect: it has forced my hype level to a boil. While I did enjoy the last two albums, I also felt that they were missing something, likely the heavier aspect that came with riff-fests like Leviathan. Usually when a band loses that aspect, it never returns, or in some cases, it takes decades to return (*cough*Metallica*cough*). However, on this song, Mastodon presents what made its fans fall in love with them years ago, and not in a way that panders and reminds, but in a way that refreshes and excites. Emperor of Sand is due to release March 31st on Reprise Records.