Mastodon is one of those bands that people tend to love or hate. I’d place myself somewhere in between, mostly being a fan of “Crack the Skye” and “Leviathan”, while not liking their last two albums that much. The straightforward stoner rock direction they’ve had going produced a few decent songs, but mostly felt harmless and bland to me.
“Emperor of Sand” is a step up, combining the riff style of the recent direction with an epicness and darkness that’s been missing for a while. There are some very welcome to nods to “Crack the Skye”, as well as “Leviathan”, giving the album a whole other sincerity and bite. It’s by no means a dark album overall though, just by Mastodon standards.
The vocal duties are shared between three of the band members, as usual. Not much has changed compared to “The Hunter” and “Once ‘Round the Sun” in this department, except that the melodies are a bit better this time around. The vocals have never been Mastodon’s strong point, and “Emperor of Sand” is no different. They’re present and sometimes catchy, but rarely sharp enough to deliver the edge that a good lead vocalist would do.
“Roots Remain” is an exception, boasting unusually emotional vocal lines for Mastodon. My favorite song on the album. I also like the single “Sultan’s Curse” a lot. It harkens back to the epicness of “Crack the Skye” and the dynamics of “Leviathan” in a very nice way. There are no duds on the album, but many of the other songs tend to float into eachother. Sometimes it’s frustrating to hear a band with so many musical moves in them fall so flat in the memorability department.
One thing that has to be mentioned here is the production. The instruments are bombastic and super clear, deservingly accenting Brain Dailor’s drumming. As usual, he delivers a great performance. It’s pretty much the signature snare heavy, all over the place drumming style we’ve grown to know and love.
This album does a lot to cement my opinion on Mastodon. They’re a bunch of talented musicians having fun, and writing some memorable music while doing so. However, their music fails to affect me on any kind of deeper level. “Emperor of Sand” is an album I might spin once in a while, but it’s not a gamechanger. It’s certainly a step up from “Once ‘Round the Sun” though.