Mastodon: For those of us long enough in the tooth to remember when these guys hit the scene, its unlikely anyone would have thought them as the massive cover-stars that they have (rightly) become due to their unrelenting heaviness, but now not only heralded by the metal community, they have successfully unfurled their gigantic tusks in to the prog and rock worlds as well.
“Once More ‘Round The Sun” sees Mastodon return for their 6th full length outing and continue to evolve their now trademark sound. But it has to be said that upon hearing one of the the lead video tracks – “Chimes At Midnight” – my initial feelings were that not much had changed since 2011’s “The Hunter”. It felt very familiar… safe almost, and it didnt really do much for me. It was unmistakably Mastodon of course, but it didn’t seem like it was pushing the same boundaries that other releases had done in the past.
So trying to get to grips with the album in its entirety was a mixed affair, and one that I am still wrestling with. “Tread Lightly” starts the ball rolling with its subtle acoustic guitar intro which gives way to the twin guitar harmonies of Kellier and Hinds and with it, brings a mid-paced, foot-tapping momentum and a great vocal hook.
The second track, “The Motherload” took me by surprise. At first I though: “What on earth is a hard rock ballad doing this early on in the track listing?!”. But I soon realised the error of my ways, and have now come to find that this is the stand out track on “Once More…”. Drummer Brann Dailor absolutely shines here, not only in his usual department as expected (and lets be honest, he’s a fantastic drummer), but also as lead vocalist, adding a very welcome texture to proceedings with a chorus that will lodge very firmly in the mind. The song has a positive message with Dailor proclaiming; “I can see what the world has done to you… ; This time; This time; Things will work out just fine”. Quirky, catchy and a damn fine hard rock song to boot.
“High Road” has one of “those” Mastodon riff intros that will make you feel right at home and in its essence, harks feelings of their earlier works more than any other track on offer here. Heavy with a very capital H, whilst the title track has a urgent feel to it and only weighs in at just over 2 and a half minutes, but crams in tons of great riffing and beats. Its fresh and vibrant.
The aforementioned “Chimes…” follows it and works better in the context of the whole album but i still cant help but feel that its a little bit of a filler. I’d like to say that this is a one off, but there is a definite, natural lull in terms of pace and songwriting with “Asleep in the Deep”, “Feast your Eyes” & “Aunt Lisa”, where these tracks see the band essentially tread an already well worn path, if not a bit of water, by pulling out plenty of “Mastodonisms” in an attempt to keep the listener on-side. While that may seem like a bit of cheap-shot, its only when Mastodon relax and let their music flow naturally are they at their very best. The difference here is that these tracks feel almost forced and conscious of themselves.
Its not all doom-n-gloom though as there are a couple of belters waiting for when you make it to the end of the disk (or your chosen format of course!): “Ember City” brings that natural melody back in to focus with some great harmony work and tremolo tones, “Halloween” is another personal favourite which should be an absolute cracker live with its galloping, bass heavy rhythms, sweet riffing and blazing lead work, while “Diamond in the Witch House” is a slow and poignant ending to what’s on offer.
I kinda feel a bit guilty for not liking all of “Once More ‘Round the Sun”, as im convinced if it had been released by anyone else, it would be hailed as a modern classic; such is the expectations placed upon the giant’s shoulders. This is in no terms a bad album – its far from it – its a good Mastodon album… just not a great one…