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Mastodon - Emperor of Sand CD (album) cover

EMPEROR OF SAND

Mastodon

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal


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4 stars Oh, yes! This is Mastodon's best album since "Crack the Skye" and for me an instant like. It seems like a return to melody without abandoning their heavy side. It's melodic (well, by Mastodon standards) and it rocks as hard as hell. In fact, this is what I expected to hear right after the magnificent CtS. After two solid efforts, they came back with this new gem. With these guys I especially find it interesting how three of the four band members provide the vocals. None of them is a true lead singer, but they make it work and the transitions between the voices are spot on. The musical formula works just as well; when you are not treated with beautiful melody, you get blasted with amazing riffs and rhythm. Song starts with killer riffs only to explode again into beautiful melodic passages. Rinse and repeat.

"Sultan's Curse": Instant like! Almost makes me feel like I'm listening to Crack the Skye volume 2.

"Show Yourself": Another beautiful melody somehow reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age.

"Precious Stones": Killer riffs, song flows beautifully!

"Steambreather": Cool rhythm followed by Brann Dailor's pleasant and higher pitched voice and shortly explodes into a majestic chorus.

"Roots Remain": Starts heavy as hell with Troy Sanders providing the intro vocals somewhere between growling and singing. Dailor again sings during the chorus. Good, complex song with a B section that's more on the mellow side continued with a beautiful solo and ending with what sounds like a piano section.

"World of the Wise": Slightly weaker track. Still rocks nicely and the guitar work is beautiful.

"Ancient Kingdom": Another grower. If this would have been on the previous album, it would have been one of my favorites. On this one it's just a good track.

"Clandestiny": Brent Hinds, whom we don't hear as much on this album, provides the chorus here. The song is heavy but in the middle it changes rhythm and moves into a progy section with synths only to return to heaviness one minute later. This middle section works amazingly well and it's my favorite part of the track.

"Andromeda": Don't really know how to comment on this one. I like it. It's complex and it moves through many short sections.

"Scorpion Breath": Interesting rhythm section with beautiful guitar work as usual. This one runs you over like a steamroller.

"Jaguar God": The most complex song on the album. It starts as a ballad with acoustic guitar, drums, bass and Hinds on vocals, but don't let that fool you. Two minutes in, the beast starts stirring. Rhythm is picked up and Dailor provides the vocals for this section. As the song gets heavier, Sanders helps with the vocals. Amazing riffs and rhythm at almost five minutes in. A beautiful guitar solo helps the song mellow back down.

I still think "Crack the Skye" is the better album, but this is as close at they got to that masterpiece. Very solid and well deserved 4 stars!

Report this review (#1708340)
Posted Thursday, April 6, 2017 | Review Permalink
Prog-jester
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Their best (read "proggiest") since "Crack The Skye"? Rightfully so. Gone are the bangers like "Motherload" and "Curl of the Burl"... wait, they're actually not! While the opener "Sultan's Curse" is 100% 2006-2009 MASTODON, the very next one, a 3-min long "Show Yourself" is the guys at their poppiest, spreading them hooks left and right.

For "Crack The Skye" fans there are mini-epics like "Roots Remain" and "Jaguar God", for die-hard metalheads (hadn't they given up on the band like three albums ago?) there's an obligatory Scott Kelly feature on a bombastic "Scorpion Breath", and so on and so forth. Unfortunately it gets MASTODON-by-numbers on tracks 6 through 9, and those would've worked way better as a single 10-12-min long epic - though I doubt they'd be playing it live then, ha! Anyway, a nice return to form for the quartet with a near-perfect balance of good songs and proggy tricks.

Report this review (#1767275)
Posted Saturday, July 29, 2017 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JRF/Canterbury, P Metal, Eclectic
3 stars As the 21st century unapologetically churns out one decade after the next, the heavy metal universe seems like its in no hurry to disappear with bands becoming more popular worldwide and seeing no end in sight. Come 2017 and the Georgia, USA based band MASTODON releases its seventh studio album which hit number 7 on the US Billboard charts after a three year gap from their "fruit monster" album "Once More Around The Sun." EMPEROR OF THE SAND pretty much picks up musically where that album left off and finds the band collaborating with producer Brendon O'Brien who finessed the audio pleasures in 2009's "Crack The Skye." Once again the Neurosis connection firmly connects MASTODON to the world of sludge metal with Scott Kelly once again contributing guest vocals on "Scorpion Breath" and "Andromeda." EMPEROR OF SAND is actually a concept album about the death sentence of a nomadic desert wanderer which was inspired by loved ones who were recently diagnosed with cancer. This album, lyrically speaking, is about soul searching and the horrible realizations of mortality which makes this extremely personal in nature.

While firmly based in a progressive sludge metal sound that emerged from the beginning, MASTODON began to de-emphasize the progressive aspects of their music beginning on "The Hunter" and pretty much continues the trend on EMPEROR OF SAND. For anyone familiar with "The Hunter" and the next album "Once More 'Round The Sun," then this one will come as no shock since this is virtually a retread of those albums complete with the lead vocals and crazy percussion talents of Brann Dailor, the rhythmic guitar sludge of Bill Keiliher, the lead guitar counterpoints of Brent Hinds and the downtuned bass guitar brilliance of Troy Sanders. The band sound as sharp as ever with all the heaviness you would expect in their unique brand of the heavy metal universe and as always they deliver their catchy off-kilter yet totally accessible stamp on the world of sludge metal with an energetic delivery and percussive scaffolding unlike any other band in the metal world.

EMPEROR OF SAND is yet another very well crafted MASTODON album with all the expected riffs, vocals and percussive accompaniments. While that may sound like a sort of comfort food for some, it is also a source of mediocrity to others. MASTODON effectively carves out a very accessible radio-friendly album with the eleven songs crafted on EMPEROR OF SAND that despite having a conceptual lyrically wrapping around the package unfortunately fail to distinguish themselves adequately in the music department. Unlike previous MASTODON albums, this one literally sound the same from beginning to end despite nothing being terribly inadequate in any particular way. The problem for me with MASTODON is that they simply lack that special magic that graced the first four albums that when listened to in comparison to this, simply blow the last three albums away. MASTODON has obviously settled on cruising along on auto-pilot at this stage of their career for whatever reasons ($ perhaps?)

If their last two albums appealed to you, then you will find this as attractive as those however if you long for the days when MASTODON was an utterly unique and distinguished band that defied the trends of the day, then i'm sorry to say that this doesn't hold a candle to albums such as "Leviathon" or "Crack The Skye." EMPEROR OF SAND is very formulaic and MASTODON-by-the- numbers despite being a well performed sludge metal album with progressive accouterments. While there is nothing particularly bad about this newest offering, it does seem that it nonchalantly covers territories already tread upon. I, for one, would prefer something a bit more experimental taking them into new territories and that doesn't necessarily mean playing tuba covers of Nancy Sinatra songs. It simply means that they take their music to the next level. That is not the case on EMPEROR OF SAND where they seem to be coasting on cruise control. Still though, a pleasant enough album to freewheel through despite not really dishing out anything remotely unexpected.

3.5 rounded down

Report this review (#1768441)
Posted Thursday, August 3, 2017 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars "Emperor Of Sand" is the 7th full-length studio album by US metal act Mastodon. The album was released through Reprise Records in March 2017. Itīs the successor to "Once More 'Round the Sun" from 2014. The band have created a conceptual piece which deals with mortality/fatal illness (the band members have revealed in interviews that the cancer illness of friends and family have served as inspiration), but on a metaphorical level telling the story of a desert wanderer who has been sentenced to death.

Stylistically the material on "Emperor Of Sand" continue the more accessible melodic direction of "Once More 'Round the Sun (2014)". Itīs still unmistakably the sound of Mastodon, featuring their relatively unique riffing style, heavy bass, Brann Dailorīs energetic drumming, and the different vocal styles, ranging from raw to various clean vocal styles. Itīs heavy music, but although the occasional sludgy moment occurs, the music is sometimes closer to heavy rock than it is to metal. Itīs safe to say Mastodon have changed a lot since their early progressive sludge metal days. It should be noted though that the music is still occasionally progressive in structure and style. The closing "Jaguar God" (which is one of the highlights of the album) is an example of that.

The music features a nice organic tone which is further backed by the warm organic sound production. The material is well written and in most cases the tracks are relatively catchy and memorable too. Mastodon still make their audience work though, and although there are a couple of pretty accessible melodic tracks featured on the album (the melody to "Show Yourself" is stuck in my head), there are also some which require more than one listen to sink in.

So upon conclusion "Emperor Of Sand" is another quality release by Mastodon, and the only real issue I can come up with, is that there is little on this album, the band havenīt already tried and done on the predecessors. So itīs not exactly a groundbreaking release as far as their discography goes. Less will do though, and "Emperor Of Sand" is still a damn solid release deserving a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating.

Report this review (#1775405)
Posted Saturday, August 26, 2017 | Review Permalink
The Crow
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Mastodon returned to their roots with this release!

And in the attempt of achieving their most classical sound, they worked with the legendary producer Brendan O'Brien. So the sound of the album is pure Mastodon. Sharp, complex, with piercing guitars and a bit hoarser vocals than in albums like Once More Round the Sun and Crack the Skye. Not a single complaint about the production, then.

But the problem with this album is that the songwriting is again subpar after the excellent Once More Round the Sound. A pair of really good songs are mixed with forgettable ones which bring nothing new to the band's career. And that's my concern with Emperor of Sand. It is a good Mastodon album, but also their most predictable and generic release.

Best Tracks: Sultan's Curse (a song which retrieves the power of Leviathan), Ancient Kingdom (dramatic and epic) and Jaguar God (their most progressive song since Crack the Skye)

Conclusion: Emperor of Sand is a minor disappointment after the superior Once More Round the Sun. And despite being than other albums like Blood Mountain and The Hunter, it does not reach the four star rating mainly because the lack of new ideas and some forgettable songs.

My rating: ***

Report this review (#2118571)
Posted Tuesday, January 15, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars In the years following Mastodon's all-time prog metal masterpiece, 2009's 'Crack the Skye', Mastodon's output focused on perfecting their propensity for heavy hitting and catchy sludgy riff metal. While the two albums from that period were acclaimed by the heavy metal community generally, they had let their prog fans out in the cold. 2018's 'Emperor of Sand' was the band's attempt to rectify this. A concept album, the lyrics and music of 'Emperor' were inspired by a string of cancer related deaths amongst band members' family and friends. Similar to 'Crack the Skye,' 'Emperor' tells a daring and fantastical story that doubles as an exploration of the band members' deep-seated fears and emotions during that period of their lives. Musically, the album comes out swinging with slamming riffs while eventually segueing into songs with more experimental sounding licks and emotionally heavier choruses. For the prog metal world, 'Emporer of Sand' is a truly welcomed return to form for Mastodon.
Report this review (#2287372)
Posted Saturday, December 14, 2019 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
4 stars On their 2017 release the quartet released a concept storyline where they want us to contemplate the nature of time. Threading together the myth of a man sentenced to death in a majestically malevolent desert, the band conjures the grains of a musical and lyrical odyssey slipping quickly through a cosmic hourglass. "Emperor Of Sand is like the grim reaper," says drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor. "Sand represents time. If you or anyone you know has ever received a terminal diagnosis, the first thought is about time. Invariably, you ask, 'How much time is left?'" "We're reflecting on mortality," adds bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders. "To that end, the album ties into our entire discography. It's 17 years in the making, but it's also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives."

Although it may seem that this would lead the album musically into darker territory, it is actually somewhat lighter than its predecessors, still capturing the Mastodon sound but at times it is more akin to hard rock than metal, while sludge is less prominent than previously. Instead they are mixing and blending complex ideas with guitar lines that sometimes have Eastern tinges, while Dailor is producing some of the most melodic vocals of his career. "Steambreather" is a case in point where instead of getting heavier it actually lightens up during the bridge even though Dailor is also blasting around the kit. "Precious Stones" is another fine example of the band playing with light and dark, as while it is lighter for the most part the final bars show the band crunching out the definitive Mastodon sound and then stopping dead.

The subject matter of the album may not be the most pleasant for people to think about, but the music has definitely taken on a less brutal and more melodic aspect while still staying true to their roots. More progressive and less metallic, this is another great release.

Report this review (#2482588)
Posted Saturday, December 5, 2020 | Review Permalink
4 stars In the last years, Emperor of Sand has been my less listened album by Mastodon. I almost burned it when it first came out, and maybe that's the reason why I haven't touched it that much in these years. Now that I'm reviewing all of Mastodon's discography I've rediscovered this album and I'm enjoying it more than what I expected.

It probably is the more stoner record by the band. All the songs sound a little alike and they all have great vocal melodies. At first this homogeneity may sound like a bad thing, but in reality the album keeps ut with the expectations and delivers 11 songs with almost no flaws. Maybe the weaker songs are the melodic "Show Yourself" and the more sludgy "Andromeda", but even so they are good songs.

What I like the most are the Pink Floyd influenced moments. This influence is very clear in passages like the instrumental break of "Clandestiny", which with its psychedelic nature and heavy riffs makes for the best song of the album. "Jaguar God" is also an excellent song with some of this keyboard infused psychedelics that I love so much.

I also find the lyrics very interesting. They take a concept album approach again, about some Emperor that curses the protagonist to walk the desert until dehydration. What I love is that they use that story as a metaphore for a fight against cancer, which I find very clever.

In conclusion, meeting again with this album was a real pleasure. It maybe doesn't have any song that truly stands out above the rest, but nor under them. A truly solid release from an already consolidated band.

Report this review (#2650847)
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Review Permalink

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