It has been an exciting few years for Mastodon, with 2009’s Crack The Skye displaying a more doom-laden sound compared to the band’s previous work and launching them into an entirely different spotlight, and 2011’s The Hunter being their first album to be released free of the elements concept that had fuelled the first four albums, thus providing the first glimpse of what the band could do with no restraints and in many ways less to think about. Now two albums into their ‘new’ period, what have the band achieved on Once More ‘Round The Sun?
Opening track ‘Tread Lightly’ begins in a standard Mastodon fashion, a jangling twelve string guitar before a gradual swell into an explosive riff and Troy Sanders’ imperious vocals echoing over the top. The track immediately proves that though the tempos have slowed considerably, this is still very much a Mastodon album.
Second track ‘Mother Load’ offers the first of many Brann Dailor highlights across the record, with the soaring “This time things will work out just fine” chorus allowing him to show off his pipes and demonstrate an intensity that had lacked before.
A notable factor throughout is the reduced presence of Brent Hinds’ voice; while an integral part of the sound before, his influence is more evident in the guitars this time round. The two tracks he does lead on, however, are two of the album’s high points, in the title track and the floating, dream inducing ‘Asleep In The Deep’ which sees all three vocalists intertwined. Despite his more hidden role, the record does not suffer and in some ways benefits due to the aforementioned added intensity that was missing before in Hinds’ broken drawl.
Closing out the album, ‘Aunt Lisa’ offers a whole new element to the band, sounding more like Faith No More than the riff heavy leviathans (pun intended) the band have been until now, even down to the gang vocals bearing a similarity to ‘Be Aggressive’. ‘Ember City’ is Brann Dailor’s finest moment on the record before the epic 7:49 long ‘Diamond In the Witch House’ brings everything to a grand prog close.
Once More ‘Round The Sun was always going to be a big record for Mastodon, and with a greater sense of understanding and purpose than was seen on The Hunter, the band have achieved a crushing outcome. Though fans of the older, more thrashy sound will be disappointed, Once More… also demonstrates a more subtle musicality, with the focus being on everything working together and having its place, as opposed to individual brilliance from each member that had been evident before, and besides, isn’t evolution what prog is all about? Once More… may not set the world alight, however what is certain is that Mastodon have once again shown themselves to be one of the most consistently brilliant bands in the modern era of metal.