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Mastodon - Once More 'Round The Sun CD (album) cover

ONCE MORE 'ROUND THE SUN

Mastodon

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.66 | 187 ratings

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Gallifrey
4 stars For the first few songs on Once More 'Round The Sun, I finally start to understand Mastodon. Over the last decade or so, the Georgian four-piece have basically become one of the metal bands that the masses collectively beat off to. All of their records up to 2011's The Hunter have been praised beyond belief for various reasons, from the intense energy and crushing groove of their early material to the progressive-sludge linings of 2009's Crack the Skye, Mastodon essentially had the metal world (or at least the critics) begging for more. And honestly, I never really got it. I mean, I dig Crack The Skye somewhat, being a big prog nut, but I could never really hear what people were gushing over, it was just a pretty good album that merged two metal genres pretty well. I guess if I focused on the instrumentation solely then it is pretty damn tight, and they certainly have a knack for a good groove, but I never really enjoyed it.

So come 2011 and Mastodon are tired of being Mastodon and (gasp!) decide to go mainstream and accessible. And honestly, I still didn't get it. To me, The Hunter is basically the Mastodon of before with shorter songs and less screaming. The cries of "radio-friendly hard rock!" went straight through me, because "Curl of the Burl" is actually pretty bloody heavy for modern radio. Some people I know went as far as to condemn them to hell - a good friend of mine even saying "that band is basically on the same level as Nickelback to me now". But even "accessible Mastodon" evaded me a bit.

But man, the first three songs on this new album have really clicked with me. They take the 'radio friendly' hooks of The Hunter, and make them better and more memorable, but they have amped up the intensity and intricacy of the instrumentals around them, which honestly heightens both aspects immensely. "Tread Lightly" is fucking insane, with Brann Dailor's spastic drumming (one of the best parts of this record, and one of the best performances from this year, even if he does use the same snare fill a lot) and Troy Sanders' rumbling bass keeping the energy up for five straight minutes of intensity. It's here that the intricacy of Mastodon's instrumentals really start to come through, but they're amplified by the insanely catchy hooks. You can't tell seriously me that the vocal chorus of "The Motherload" isn't the catchiest fuckin thing you've heard this year. It's so majestic and fun, but it doesn't compromise complexity for a memorable hook. Lead single "High Road" also has a hell of a chorus, soaring high above the sludgy and tight verses to lift the song up so high. You combine tight grooves, insane playing and proggy riffs with majestic and insanely catchy choruses that make everyone want to sing along and you've got a recipe for whatever the metal equivalent of a 'banger' is.

And then it just floats away. I honestly don't think the term "top-heavy" can be more true here, because the rest of the album just never matches the tight intensity of the opening three. I guess it's kind of hard to construct an album to follow such an explosive beginning, because if you keep going down the same path then the album gets repetitive, and if you change and pull out some songs with different moods, the energy dies and the listener gets bored. It's not all bad though, and the mid-album duo of "Chimes at Midnight" and "Asleep In The Deep" are probably at the same level as the openers, but for different reasons. These two are both more linear tracks, following pretty much the same mood for the whole track, and both are without an extremely definable hook. Of course, the pleb in me really just wants a bitchin chorus to come in and lift it up, and the latter of the two nearly does, but the songs are pretty solid in themselves. The former is a groove-fest, with the entire song being driven by a paced and insanely tight triplet pattern on the guitars. The latter is a slower song, really bringing out Mastodon's influence from stoner rock on this album, with a guitar pattern that reminds me a lot of modern occult-rock bands like Jess and the Ancient Ones.

But the rest of the album really just doesn't hold up, despite having moments. "Ember City" and "Halloween" both have relatively good hooks, but there isn't enough substance outside of the choruses to hold them up. Many of the latter tracks - notably "Aunt Lisa" and "Feast Your Eyes", have riffs that really don't lock into a solid groove and end up sounding like a slop of random notes, and then we have "Diamond In The Witch House", which is honestly just straight-up boring in its nearly 8-minute length, even though longer songs is something I normally lap up. The biggest problem with an album as top-heavy as this is that I want to turn it off as soon as I get to track seven. It's not bad in any way, but it just doesn't hold up its weight throughout. As for how it compared to the Mastodon discography, I can't really say, because as I said at the start, they have really not impressed me to this level in the past. I think that the combination of groove, melody, accessibility and complexity that they showcase in this album's opening quarter is really impressive, though, and even though this may be an 'accessible' album (I mean, I like it, so it must be), there's still a lot for the classic fans to love in here.

7.2

Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog

Gallifrey | 4/5 |

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