Mastodon - Emperor of Sand (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Emperor of Sand (2017)


Few metal bands have been able to successfully permeate the mainstream, especially in recent years. After a string of successful concept albums, Mastodon swung for the fences of modern rock radio and slightly missed the mark. On Emperor of Sand, their seventh full length, they've found the perfect balance.

Returning to the concept format gives Emperor of Sand more structure than either The Hunter or Once More ‘Round the Sun. But it also strikes a personal chord, an impressive feat considering the premise is a protagonist banished to the desert. Time and sand unfortunately refer to the passing of guitarist Bill Kelliher’s mother. On “Precious Stones,” co-vocalists Brent Hinds and Brann Dailor harmonize, “Don’t waste your time. Don’t let it slip away from you.” Cancer and life itself are prevalent themes throughout.

Working again with producer Brendan O’Brien, Mastodon maintains their polished technical expertise. The album is clean but not scrubbed of feeling. O’Brien worked with the group on 2009's Crack the Skye and this feels like a follow up to that. The heaviness of the early years is there, but make no mistake, this is a metal band aiming for arenas. Melodic vocals plaster Emperor of Sand. Dailor especially has a knack for nailing spectacular hooks. Hinds and bassist/co-vocalist Troy Sanders follow suit, finding melody in their much raspier voices. “Show Yourself”—one of the poppiest songs Mastodon has ever recorded—is tailor made for rock radio. While the opening of eight-minute closer “Jaguar God” finds Hinds at his most beautiful, crooning over soft balladry.

Mastodon lets multiple segments carry out over four-minute songs without them ever feeling bloated. Dailor’s drums—always a standout—are more controlled even when he lets loose (“Roots Remain.”) Fret not, though, because Kelliher and Hinds bring the heavy with the crunchy, destructive guitars on “Andromeda” and the wild solos on “Word to the Wise.” The give and take between the two shows how succinctly a veteran act can perform.

At this point in their career, Mastodon is ready for crossover success. In a Rolling Stone article, Sanders was quoted saying, “[T]he album ties into our entire discography. It’s 17 years in the making.” Luckily, Emperor of Sand is the result, satiating both the band and the fans this time around.