Mastodon – ‘Emperor of Sand’ Review

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Riffs, doom, an epic concept - exactly what you'd expect from Mastodon

Metal needed this album. It needed a record that’s doomy, heavy and magnificently multilayered, and Mastodon’s seventh album is exactly that. “‘Emperor Of Sand’ is like the Grim Reaper,” says drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor about the album’s cancer concept, which reflects the band’s recent familial losses. “Sand represents time. If you or anyone you know has ever received a terminal diagnosis, the first thought is about time. Invariably you ask, ‘How much time is left?’ We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives.”

The record is as weighty as it sounds. Opener ‘Sultan’s Curse’ employs galloping, brutal riffs and leads you to ‘Show Yourself’ – the video for which features an inept Grim Reaper trying to kill Mastodon, but only managing to maim a few lookalikes in comedic fashion. These tracks are as proggy as expected, but the emotional outpouring is evident. Being sensitive in metal without sounding twee or parodic is tough, but Mastodon nail it.

There are a few breaks from the magnificent doom, most impressively the breakdown and skirmish in ‘Roots Remain’, which segues into something akin to a magical crystal cave with its eloquent chimes and drones in the right places. It builds, brilliantly, in a way that mimics the title track from their seminal 2011 record ‘The Hunter’.

Mastodon have written the most personal album of their career, and in doing so perhaps their most pertinent too. The chorus of ‘Precious Stones’ repeats the line “Don’t waste your time, don’t let it slip away from you” and seems to capture the mood of our times perfectly.

Words by Anita Bhagwandas