Mastodon has been up front and honest about the concept for their Emperor Of Sand record since we first heard about them writing new material. With the band having to deal with cancer affecting their families and friends over the past eighteen months, the guys decided to take on that devastating news, and put it into song. Throughout the record the listener follows the journey of a person destined to die, and while important lessons are learned, and memories come to life, their fate, like many that deal with cancer, is already determined. With a powerful soundtrack accompanying the tragic theme throughout the album, Emperor Of Sand makes for Mastodon‘s most vulnerable, yet focused release in years.
The record opens with the commanding track, ‘Sultan’s Curse’, and right away, the theme and power of this album is thrown at you. The riffs are as huge as ever, the drums are brilliantly calculated, and with words like “Tired and lost, no one to trust” and “Memories of loved ones only passing me by” being thrust into your ears, you are automatically put into theme of Emperor Of Sand, and the journey only gets more impressive and emotional from there.
‘Show Yourself’, as we’ve all heard by now, follows the opening track with the catchy aspect of the band, that fans either love or hate. For me, it’s impressive to see a band be able to write thunderous tunes, as well as songs that could, and should be found on the radio. No one does it like Mastodon, and it was no surprise that this was chosen as the first single.
After the two opening tracks demand your attention, you continue on that haunting journey with emotional songs, such as ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Steambreather’ and ‘Roots Remain’, which all showcase soaring vocals, fine-tuned solos, and song craftsmanship that we haven’t heard from them in years. While these songs are simple to the untrained ear, once you truly dive in, and hear what all is going on in these tracks, you will be left speechless.
As ‘Word To The Rise’ and ‘Ancient Kingdom’ add that familiar sound that we’ve heard from the band over the years, ‘Clandestiny’ displays how much this band has grown, and what we may expect to hear in the future. The guitar work on this song is just exceptional. From the diversity of the riffs, to the subtle, yet powerful addition of distortion at moments, this is a clinic on how to make a theme come to life with six strings. With the addition of lyrics like ‘give your life, so I can breathe, save a life, is all we need,’ this song, not only symbolizes the desperation of the character on their journey, but it’s also the highlight of the record for me.
Not to be outdone by ‘Clandestiny’, the last three tracks complete the emotional journey in a way that the best authors in the world wish they could accomplish. ‘Andromeda’ is a riff-filled masterpiece that takes listeners back to the band’s Leviathan days, and with a guest spot from Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp, it makes for one of the heaviest songs they’ve ever written. The next guest spot shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Scott Kelly of Neurosis has appeared on all of their albums, and his echoing screams only make ‘Scorpion Breath’ a more intense experience for the listener. The track is particularly lively, which throws you off a bit, but once you hear ‘Jaguar God’, it all makes sense. The closing number features some of the best songwriting this band has ever, yes I said ever, done. The ballad begins in beautiful acoustic fashion, and gets heavier and heavier as each second passes. This, for the character, is the end of his journey. This is what meeting death sounds like. It’s scary and daunting, but there’s no turning back. As the last note slowly fades away, it’s strangely calming. As emotional, and life-altering this journey has been, you feel at peace once it’s all over, and the journey for the listener, as well as the album, is done.
Mastodon‘s Emperor Of Sand is, not only another instant classic to add their already impressive catalog, but a showcase of the band’s maturity and brilliance as songwriters. Musically, everything you’ve ever loved about this band is there, and then some. Lyrically, I don’t know if they’ve done a better job before. The theme was very personal to them, and I think they opened up more than they ever have in the past. For a diehard fan like me, that makes the record that much more real. This album is one of the most intense and emotional listens I’ve heard in a while, and I know this may shock some people, but I think it’s their best record since 2009’s Crack the Skye. It’s that damn good.
Order your copy of Emperor Of Sand here.