Once More 'Round the Sun
Like vinyl, metal never went away: The hardcore devotees remained true and, at the same time, it was also co-mingling with different genres and, thereby, evolving. By taking a liberal approach to their craft, metal’s most satisfying new bands have allowed guitar weirdness of all stripes (psychedelic, shoegaze, punk, goth, etc.) into their sounds. It should be noted that many of those bands not only come from the South, but from Georgia: Kylesa, Sleep, Torche and Mastodon.
On its first four albums, Mastodon breathed new life into metal’s greatest trope – the concept album – by creating song cycles about death, Moby Dick and quantum physics that amazingly never went off the rails. In fact, they were all rather concise statements of purpose – the songs traversed heavy music’s wide terrain but never meandered. Smart but never pointy-headed, each album was better than the last. And, of course, they rock.
Like 2011’s The Hunter, Once More ‘Round the Sun was written without a unifying concept, though ruminations on loss and rebirth are the primary lyrical concerns. But where its predecessor belied a band in transition, Once More ‘Round the Sun finds cohesion in taut songwriting and a newfound love of hooks and atmospherics – the entire album bursts forth from a hazy, humid glaze with laser-like precision. The gilded sonics (courtesy of Deftones and Foo Fighters producer, Nick Raskulinecz) add gravitas to the vocals, which more than ever are a group affair: Brent Hinds is gloriously gravelly without resorting to Cookie Monster histrionics while Troy Sanders soars on the right side of “Crazy Train.”
The songs that populate Once More ‘Round the Sun are tough and economical – but that’s not to say anything here is simple. Drummer Brann Dailor’s jazz-like chops still amaze, but here he plays with restraint, sneaking in propulsive fills that thrill as much as the knotty guitars. “Tread Lightly” sets the albums tone – beginning with an ominous 12-string guitar intro that quickly turns into a drop-tuned heavy assault. With its anthemic chorus “The Motherload” is poised to be a killer live cut. It feels radio-ready, too… and given the album’s debut on Billboard’s Top Ten (#6), that could be a distinct possibility.
But it’s “High Road” that takes first single honors – proving its worth with another sing-along chorus and a killer guitar solo. Even when they play with pop structure, the members of Mastodon never lose their gift for finely crafted transitions: When a new motif is introduced, the rest of the band evolve their playing to embrace the new structure. The title track does all of these things well and then some; it’s also the album’s best and most psychedelic track.
“Aunt Lisa” is another stand out. Here Mastodon flexes every musical muscle beginning with a mind-melting intro worthy of King Crimson, a perfectly unhinged performance from Dailor, a hefty groove, and a prescient tribute to the Ramones courtesy of Atlanta’s The Coathangers. There are plenty of surprises in between, too – which is really the case for all of Once More ‘Round the Sun. It’s an album that rewards repeat listening – and once you’re in its orbit, you’ll want nothing else.