When it comes to summer, a lot of people think of pop or electronic songs that set the theme for the hot and humid days ahead. Listening to Mastodon‘s latest album, Once More ‘Round the Sun, had me on an open road speeding down the highway frame of mind. This isn’t “Blurred Lines” or “Get Lucky”; this music is pure metal muscle with a progressive twist. Perfect muse for road trips and air guitar sessions everywhere. A 14-year career, especially to be consistent in metal music, is something to be marveled at. Even though they’re undergoing a stylistic change, Mastodon hasn’t skipped a beat.
The first thing fans will notice is that while the rawness of the album comes production-wise, the execution of the songs is very technical and almost catchy. A lot of songs in the modern music era sound too polished, glazed and extremely loud. Once More ‘Round the Sun sounds like a vintage recording that harkens back to the days of Black Sabbath. One of the main highlights of the album for me are the opening tracks “Tread Lightly” and “The Motherload”. The dueling guitar riffs of Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders take on a more straightforward rock approach, but don’t lack bite. Guitarist Bill Kelliher stated in an interview that the album had a “last year on earth” theme. Within the first four tracks, you get the sense of a person living on the edge with no sense or worry of tomorrow. The lyrics to the chorus of “The Motherload”, sung by drummer Brann Dailor, further this notion as “This time, this time/Things will look up just fine.” I was singing this chorus for days.
The album plays like a tale of two stories. The latter half switches to a more progressive, experimental base. The second single, “Chimes at Midnight” will appease older Mastodon fans as they reach into their sludge rock past. The guitars bounce off each other – as do the vocals from Hinds and Sanders, which are progressively better on this album. The band did state that as they were getting older, they took vocal lessons and warmups more seriously. This is interesting as one of the criticisms of Mastodon is live vocals, so we will wait and see how these records translate to a live show.
There’s a certain accessibility to Once More ‘Round the Sun that Mastodon tried to touch upon in their previous album, The Hunter. Metalheads will love it, but perhaps it will get a few spins on rock radio as well. Just because the album is more approachable does not mean that the vigor has been poached, although the addition of the hey-ho lyrical chant in “Aunt Lisa” may have been a bit of a reach. In today’s metal world, there are many bands that go along with the status quo or wait around for the younger bands to eventually take the torch. Mastodon has improved their vocals and made their musical acumen that much more on point. It’s a new chapter of headbanging rock done right.