The culmination of a three-album odyssey

It’s album number seven for Mastodon, and Emperor of Sand follows the creative arc that they have taken since leaving the elaborate Crack the Skye behind.

That means an album with concise songs full of hooks and an abundance of melodic singing. If that’s not what you want from a Mastodon album, then Emperor of Sand is likely to be a disappointment. For others who have enjoyed the band’s development, this will be another special journey. Here, Mastodon takes the listener across the deserts of Arabia. It’s a tale of both death and redemption as a condemned man flees into the desert and gradually wastes away – the adventure is a metaphor for the wasting effects of cancer with the imagery of sand marking the passage of time. Once again, the band has found inspiration in the untimely passing of a relative and turned it into album-length storytelling.

“Sultan’s Curse” opens the album with a typical ragged Mastodon riff, the likes of which are also prevalent in “Roots Remain” and “Words to the Wise”; with “Show Yourself” the band swerves into a melodic rock vein with a QOTSA vibe and a bouncy groove where melody and hooks are at the forefront. What becomes increasingly obvious is that much of the angular aspects of Mastodon’s songwriting have been honed and polished into a more melodic direction, but that doesn’t stop the band from unleashing a whirlwind of battering riffs across the album. Most of the more extreme aspects of their music – the death metal riffs, Brent Hinds’ lunatic screams – have been left behind, but Emperor of Sand is still a punishing journey, ablaze with ferocious soloing and Brann Dailor’s epic drumming, a little more nuanced than previously and therefore allowing a different kind of dynamic. During “Clandestiny” they reference ancient prog rock influences with a Genesis/Rush-like synth line snaking along through the bridge, and “Jaguar God” closes things off with every trick Mastodon has at their disposal, beginning as a sad, plaintive dirge and building to a crescendo of riff-roaring metal. It’s an eight-minute showcase of everything they’ve ever done, just as Emperor of Sand is the culmination of the odyssey the band has been on over their past three albums.

1. Sultan’s Curse
2. Show Yourself
3. Precious Stones
4. Steambreather
5. Roots Remain
6. Word to the Wise
7. Ancient Kingdom
8. Clandestiny
9. Andromeda
10. Scorpion Breath
11. Jaguar God