Mastodon have been around for the better part of two decades. During that time, they’ve grown to become a generational icon. They are one of the -if not the– most recognizable names in metal. After three years since Once More ‘Round the Sun (2014, Reprise), they are back with their eighth album, Emperor Of Sand (2017, Reprise). And boy, is it addictive.
Some purists had given Mastodon a tough time after they shifted away from their progressive roots on their two previous albums. Some saw it as a regression, not an evolution, of their signature sound. Others embraced the change, praising the band for exploring new sounds and new methods of storytelling.
In Emperor Of Sand, it seems we see the result of that out-of-bounds exploration. We’re delivered a mature progressive, heavy, stoner metal sound. They’re back to where they feel most at home, closer to Leviathan (2004, Relapse) and Crack The Skye (2009, Reprise). Their sound, alone, is not the most interesting aspect in Emperor of Sand. They are back to concepts, fantastical and epic, through which to tell their story.
This time, the storytelling is especially fantastic. The main theme is dark and mature. The imagery is devastating. Emperor of Sand reflects the band’s own experiences on mortality, time, and disease. Specifically, cancer is cited to be a recurring inspiration. The album tells the story of a desert wanderer who was exiled as a death sentence, dies and is later saved.
We get to see the more emotional, fragile side of the huge Mastodon. We receive arid, tough, dry songs. Heavy, filled with flame and scorch. We’re also given songs full with fight, with endurance, with survival. It is an introspective, a reflection on mortality and our finite existence, about making the most of the time we have and about not giving up and accepting the reality of the cards we’ve all been dealt.
Few times do we encounter such a personal, biting album. Especially from such a big band. There are no cosmic fantasies, no white whales, no fantastical themes. This is an earthly, tough album. Inspiring, devastating. A very welcome look into the human side of one of the greatest bands of a generation.
Catch them on tour.
Listen to Emperor of Sand below. Oh, and if you’re interested, they put out an excellent ‘Making Of’ on their YouTube channel.