In a recent interview Mastodon stated that during the writing sessions for their sixth studio effort, entitled Once More ‘Round The Sun, they had consciously cut down on any unnecessary riffs, and even notes, in an effort to streamline their songwriting. And it’s noticeable. It’s hard to believe that the same band who created the progressive masterpiece Crack The Skye, with all the twisting riffs and instrumental passages, could produce an album whose foundation is very much in hard rock.
The most notable mutation to their sound is the introduction of Brann Dailor as one of three main vocalists. In fact Dailor is responsible for the best vocal moments across the album, lending his vocals to the supremely infectious choruses of Ember City, The Motherload and High Road. However, Brent Hinds also provides some equally catchy moments during Once More ‘Round The Sun, Halloween and Chimes At Midnight, which is part of Mastodon’s transition away from harsh bellows and towards melodic, clean tones.
Although the vocals may be shifting, Mastodon’s riffing is still immediately recognisable. The Motherload begins with a grooving riff, whilst High Road takes inspiration from their Leviathan-era. The biggest nod back to their roots is the record’s closing track, Diamond In The Witch House, which is a sludgey affair, with Troy Sanders returning to his favored bellowing voice and the band finding the same gloomy atmosphere that permeates itself through debut album Remission.
Despite the band cutting out a lot of riffs, the finished product still features many instrumental passages that, in most cases, work their gradually towards a soaring guitar solo, courtesy of Hinds, most evident in album openers Tread Lightly and The Motherload. The instrumental highlight of the album has to be the two minute outro that concludes Halloween, with Hinds’ shredding overlaying the stop and go riff beneath.
On Once More ‘Round The Sun Dailor continues to show his virtuoso tendencies, with clever fills and intriguing beats scattered through the record. During The Motherload’s extended bridge section Dailor provides some great dynamical drumming, whilst he unleashes his full potential on the unusual thrash and djent inspired Chimes At Midnight.
Although the progressive nature of Mastodon has been reigned back on this effort, their experimental side does still come out to play. Asleep In The Deep is a trip through a dreamy musical soundscape, whose zenith is the bizarre (and quite ambitious) vocal permutations featured during the chorus, which will no doubt prove hard to perform live. Aunt Lisa begins with a hectic, Blood Mountain-style riff and manages to squeeze in humming synths, guitar oddities and vocal effects, before guest vocal group, The Coat Hangers, begin chanting something akin to The Ramones’ classic Blitzkrieg Bop refrain.
Whilst Once More ‘Round The Sun is definitely a departure from their progressive metal sound, there are still enough elements of traditional Mastodon for this record to sit happily alongside their other efforts. The success of this record was born from cutting down a track and analysing its strengths and weaknesses, which has helped the Atlanta quartet to balance their brutality with melody and has allowed them to showcase their genuine songwriting ability and musicianship.
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