I recently waded in on a buddy’s Facebook rant on how Mastodon had lost their original fire, and were overrated and couldn’t sing their own vocal lines (well, live anyway). So I approached reviewing this a little sheepishly on my cycles to work, slightly hoping to hate it, just so I would continue being right. I could see how a long-time fan may not want to hear the same band who (seemingly) stole Tool‘s crown as late-noughties prog kings hitting the middle of the road. Brann Dailor‘s drumming – and pedigree (alongside Bill Kelliher) in notoriously angular and nasty late-90s underground DIY negators Today is the Day gave them a roadworthy cool (with bonus stinking-van humility and badassness). Far from Rick Wakeman and his cape, this prog rock was some sort of sleeve-tattooed, post-hardcore aesthetic doing long Iron Maiden with searing chops. Grinding through the clubs and toilets and nerding on Thin Lizzy, they were both a lovable and fearsome proposition.
I remember in 2009 that there was a bit of a song and dance about Crack the Skye, being that it was a lot more melodic and seemed to be in less of an angular and chaotic mood than its predecessors Blood Mountain and Leviathan. I personally enjoyed the first half of that album a lot, even though the band appeared to be unable to really carry off the rich textures they had conjured up in the studio when playing live.
Anyway, blah blah blah, that’s the past. It’s a long time since Remission and Relapse Records and I guess some people want that all to come back. They don’t want Mastodon turning into 80’s Rush with pop songs dressed as prog by the sole virtue of their length or the number of toms on the drum kit. But after a solid few days of listening, Once More ‘Round The Sun is not wearing it’s welcome out half as much as I hoped it might.
In a way, it takes a lot more maturity and balls to come up with a good package of listenable songs, rather than stringing together a load of ideas from jams and calling it an “epic”. I guess it worked when Black Sabbath or Budgie just turned left out of nowhere in a song, but at least they had the excuse of being on drugs and not knowing what they were doing. It’s 2014 now, and a good tune will never go out of fashion.
It’s actually a little difficult to pin this stuff down, it’s very complicated on the surface; the signature ADD drumming is all snare fills and with the open, live drum sound it feels real. This is something worth noting actually – the drum sound is very live, as it is for all Mastodon releases. Dailor’s playing is not brain-freezingly technical as much as it is musical and it gives Mastodon that believable, live feel. Something to think of next time you’re listening to some awful, over-produced, perfectly quantized and triggered drum production. Bring back the big miced-up drum kit!
But despite the drumming and the odd tasty guitar solo, the tunes are pretty straightforward (see High Road) and easy on the cranium (see The Motherload). Mercifully, they often rely on simple and satisfying vocal hooks or riffs, with lots of simple stoner chunks and easy-going changes to glue things together. The vocal phrasing can slip very slightly into repeat mode on occasion but with enough swirling instrumentation to counteract it, it’s a minor complaint. Steady, enjoyably catchy and with the showing-off slightly turned down, it’s like Thin Lizzy on steroids. But with enough maturity to not parade around, prancing with their man-tits out like a big stupid Muscle Mary.
Once More ‘Round The Sun was released on June 24th via Reprise Records.