Mastodon: Emperor Of Sand (Reprise)

Disappointing return from the Georgia prog metal outfit on album number seven

Released Mar 31st, 2017 / By Erick Mertz
Mastodon: Emperor Of Sand (Reprise) When you’ve been around as long as some bands, you earn 'their new one' status. Album release announced and your fan base clamours for it, the new one. You have got to be around for some time to earn that, and Kennesaw, Georgia progressive metal outfit Mastadon has longevity on their side. With six genre defining sludge metal records released over fifteen years, the arrival of Emperor of Sand came with great hope, and not just for its place in the band’s evolving canon. Maybe no two fans would agree when precisely it happened, but almost unanimously, the hardcore heads would say the band has, well, devolved some in recent records.

'Their new one' as statement of hope for a return to the good ones. Conceptually, Emperor of Sand follows a desert wanderer, handed his death sentence and over the course of over fifty-one minutes, deals with themes of forgiveness, survival and tasty bits of revenge. Those core elements were drawn from band members’ individual experiences with loss, specifically loved ones to cancer. With the record viewed this way, it’s hard to take a shot at Mastadon’s intentions. Cancer sucks. Love and loss transposed onto the epic vistas of scorched earth and survival makes great fodder for musical theater. I don’t believe anyone would take their shot there.

What leaves Emperor... in the sand for me is the plain songwriting, and a clumsy stab at metal craft, which any long standing Mastadon fan would say amounts to a by-the-numbers record. The genre they helped invent, they now serve to wear out with cliché. There are a few songs on this record, namely 'Show Yourself' that are flat out boring, leaning too far toward radio-sculpted hard rock, bands like Foo Fighters. Now, in a certain context, I like that band, but they are not the influence I crave on a Mastadon record. By the second half of Emperor, the songwriting turns a notch or two darker and shows more of the desired sand and grime, but it is far too little, far too late, really.

Speaking of Mastadon fans (they are a hard band to separate from their followers) they have been tracing the band’s slow decline for a while. A few say The Hunter was the last great one; for my money, Blood Mountain was the last truly progressive metal album in their catalogue. There is no right answer. What feels like an almost universal truth though, is the sentiment that this is 'not that record' for the band, or the genre. Instead, it’s another lurch into high concept, low return.