Album Review: Mastodon – Once More ‘Round The Sun

MASTODON is a band that’s worked hard and earned their respect through touring hard for nearly fifteen years and repeatedly writing phenomenal records that are bursting with character. They’ve pioneered a multi-layered sound of equal parts thick, sludgy riffs and sprawling, prog-infused song structures, which has been the influence of a whole host of bands that have followed in their footsteps. Does their new album Once More ‘Round the Sun reach the standards that they’ve set so highly for themselves?

Artist credit - Skinner

The left hand quarter of the OMRTS artwork by artist Skinner.

Mastodon’s most recent opus was the 2011’s The Hunter. There was no way that this record could top the epic magnitude of its predecessor, Crack the Skye, so instead The Hunter shocked fans and critics with its accessible songs and apparent simplicity. Though in no way did Mastodon disappoint with this release as their song-writing was as strong as it ever had been. On the first listen, Once More ‘Round the Sun sounds like it closely follows the stadium rock sensibilities of The Hunter, yet with time the new release reveals itself as altogether more intriguing  beast that still flaunts some of the heavier riffage that’s found on Mastodon’s earlier material.

The band has always managed to add an extra element of texture to their sound by sharing the vocal duties around, but never as much as they have on the new release. By giving drummer Brann Dailor a larger slice of the singing cake, a real marvel has been uncovered. If you weren’t previously convinced by Dailor’s lead vocal debut on The Hunter, just give the chorus of ‘The Motherload’ a listen and try not to be bowled over (never mind trying to get the vocal hook out of your head within a week of first hearing it). On the other hand, although guitarist and vocalist Brent Hinds has been fulfilling vocal duties for the last twelve years and can produce a harsh bark that sits as a cornerstone of Mastodon’s sound, his clean vocals just don’t stand up to the strength of those of bassist Troy Sanders. In the chorus of ‘Asleep in the Deep’, Hinds isn’t even providing all of the vocals, but those that he does provide are jarring and just feel awkward.

A highlight of Once More ‘Round the Sun comes in the form of ‘Aunt Lisa’. The track opens with one of the most convulsive riffs you’ll ever hear and closes with a hey-ho cheerlead-esque chant provided by guest vocalists from The Coathangers, which although some might find off-putting and on paper should be cliqued, in execution is completely unexpected and works just great. Scott Ian of Neurosis also appears on the final track of the album, ‘Diamond in the Witch House’, to provide his guest appearance that has now become a staple of a Mastodon release. The album closer is a brilliant conclusion and adds yet another dimension to the release with the slower, post-metal tinged atmospheres that are more in the vein of Neurosis’ material than the songs it actually follows.

This isn’t an album that’s has broken down stylistic boundaries for Mastodon, nor does it even give us anything that Mastodon hasn’t given us before. It does, however, represent the musical spectrum that they’ve previously given to us condensed into a single record. From the frenzied riffs, to the soaring chorus hooks, to the spaced-out soundscapes- One More ‘Round The Sun has got it all. If Mastodon needed to take a break from demolishing the confines of genre classifications to produce a multi-faceted album of such high quality, then who are we to argue?

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