Album: Emperor of Sand by Mastodon
Released: March 31st, 2017
Mastodon is a progressive metal band from Atlanta that was formed in 2000 from the ashes of two disbanded acts. The group has had the same lineup since its formation which consists of bassist Troy Sanders, guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, and drummer Brann Dailor. Mastodon has released seven studio albums to date; four of these have been concept albums. Initially known as a stoner and sludge metal band that used growling vocals, Mastodon has sought to expand their musicianship and genre with each record. Each musician brings a masterful and unique style to their instrument and Mastodon is noted for having three vocalists (Sanders, Hinds, and Dailor). Though the band that recorded on 2017’s Emperor of Sand sounds very different than the one which released Remission in 2002, the same four amazing musicians continue to persevere and carve their own unique place in music history.
The Story and the Songs:
After two stand-alone albums that saw Mastodon continue to explore different sounds and techniques, the band returned to concept records with 2017’s Emperor of Sand. The album begins with the heavy riffing of “Sultan’s Curse”, a return to form that is evocative of earlier albums and serves as a reassuring track for die-hard fans afraid of Mastodon’s musical exploration. The character in the story is forced by an evil sultan to walk through a desert and it is in this song that the death sentence is given. The tone takes a sharp left with “Show Yourself”; one of the most radio-friendly songs the band has ever produced. “Precious Stones” takes a step back toward the Mastodon we know and love by creating catchy choruses with all three vocalists featured and another blistering guitar solo by Hinds. “Steambreather” rolls in with a brutal riff and layered percussion before launching into short guitar solos and another anthemic chorus. “Roots Remain” fades in with acoustic guitar and psychedelic elements before bashing into the listener and evoking the feeling of charging into battle atop a panting steed, but slows to a canter in the middle of the song.
“Word to the Wise” roars in with up-tempo riffs and Sanders’s cries of “Sirens sounding! I didn’t hear it!” “Ancient Kingdom” is another busy song with call backs to earlier albums and a copious amount of palm-muting guitars before an impressive solo break. “Clandestiny” brings a psychedelic atmosphere to the forefront before the doom metal riffage of “Andromeda.” “Scorpion Breath” sounds like it could have been taken off of their debut, Remission, and the final track is “Jaguar God.” Much like “The Last Baron”, “Jaguar God” is built in movements and showcases each musician’s instruments in turn as well as allowing each of the three vocalists their turn at the mic.
Emperor of Sand does have a concept and story, but it is again more of an allegory like Blood Mountain. Much like Crack the Skye, the concept of Emperor of Sand was born out of tragedy when Sanders’s wife was diagnosed with cancer and Kelliher’s mother passed away from the same illness. This feeling of loss and heartbreak saturates the album and makes it all the more fitting that it was selected for 2017’s Ten bands One Cause; ten bands are chosen every year to have a record reissued on pink vinyl and all proceeds of this reissue went to Gilda’s Club NYC, an organization that provides community support for both those diagnosed with cancer and their caretakers. It is named after comedian Gilda Radner, who passed away from cancer at the age of 43 in 1989.
Emperor of Sand marked a return to earlier style for the band and was a welcomed release for many; though it couldn’t help but be compared to the likes of Crack the Skye and Blood Mountain, Emperor of Sand holds its own in the band’s impressive discography. If you’re interested, feel free to check out a documentary about making Emperor of Sand that the band put out last year!
Please enjoy some song recommendations, a song from the album, and check out the band’s social media accounts below!
Song recommendations: “Sultan’s Curse” , “Roots Remain” , “Word to the Wise” , “Jaguar God”
Previously: Crack the Skye