Ian Billen picks album of the year for 2014 – Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun

Mastodon 2014 Album of the year by Ian Billen

This was Mastodon’s sixth studio effort, and although it appears this album picked up where their previous album The Hunter left off, there was definitely something simpler here with a more straight aimed focus. The album’s opener “Tread Lightly” introduces an acoustic guitar which is an immediate signal that revealed this album was to be more thematically grounded than the group’s previous recordings. At three songs in, the most primary example of this suite’s more simplified, yet essential approach, is “Long Way Down.” The song is direct, structured properly, and strong, but at the same time it’s actually fairly basic.

Being as intricate and musically gifted as is a band like Mastodon, one might worry, how could Mastodon’s sound be simplified or deduced and still hit the mark …especially keeping in mind their hardcore fan base? After all, isn’t that grandiose complexity one of the group’s most formidable attractions? The answer serves as something that is subconsciously more or less easy. It lies in a compulsory tendency toward the emblematic choruses that are doused all over and throughout the band’s 2014 release. The penning is laid down to simpler melodies, short bridges, and amiable refrains that establish a priority every bit as much as presenting the band’s undeniable technical skill. This recipe calls upon customary Mastodon guitar solos three parts in and then set to bake at 400 degrees for 54 minutes.

As was with Metallica during their Load and Reload phase of the mid 1990’s, songs on Once More, ‘Round The Sun demonstrate a slightly slower, even somewhat reserved sound for such an extraordinarily elaborate metal act.

The band’s new producer, Nick Raskulinecz (Rush, The Deftones), dusted off a few of his old text books from Songwriting-101 and put things down to a nice perspective along with the band’s cooperation. The guitars’ sound are shaped a tad differently from this album’s predecessor while still remaining epic enough in nature (which is a crucial objective for this act). Possibly, the only complaint worthy weakness to the chosen recording modus operandi is while guitars are certainly loud, upfront, and plenty crunchy, they lack a certain heaviness that was in place on their previous records. This is not so much a major setback, just a mere reality to the alteration of things this time out. Drummer Brann Dailor’s clatter is as standout as on any of Mastodon’s others. On vocals, both Dailor and lead guitarist Brent Hinds indeed seem more consciously focused to the task at hand. At the same time, the two sound just a hint of being less inspired on a personal level. As are many situations in life, the most practical in the big picture of things usually entails a tradeoff or two.

The overall theme on this album is leaning toward something fundamental and purposeful to, at times, even being sort of “catchy.” Not to mislead, the guys still certainly demonstrate their deepened interwoven musicianship; it simply wouldn’t be a Mastodon album if that were not in place. However, along with that excellent musicianship and complicated performance is a focused archetypical grounding that was not present in their other releases. Even the lyrics on this album sometimes indicate a sort of sensible but uncharacteristic vulnerability. In some spots, the wordage could even suggest the guys have loosened things up and are having a little fun at it, though quite modestly. The album’s tempo is a bit more measured than their usual, and surprisingly, there is a familiar structure to a handful of the songs that isn’t completely different from those on today’s mainstream rock charts.

Mastodon does take time out to conjure up a strong curve against the rest of this marginally standardized, somewhat conservative record. “Aunt Lisa” mixes Raskulinecz’s punk admiration with psychedelic overtures to create a bemused (in humorously being taken aback by female vocalists in the outro) metal-mixed memoir of self-uncertainty. In ways, the song is scattered, but this doesn’t ruin what is to be the album’s final section. Closing it out, we are once again reminded of this collection’s more down-to-earth basic outline. Another acoustic guitar is clearly present on the final “Diamond In The Witch House.” The song may not be 100% plugged-in, but it’s certainly not any sort of discouraging weakened sendoff. Very present here are the crunchy chords, pounding drums, and the group’s not at all uncommon Ozzy Osbourne styled harmonies.

It is hard to say this particular album is ‘easily’ better than the band’s previous albums considering their strong track record and powerhouse statements earlier in the millennium. Ambitious staples such as Leviathan and Remission will remain more memorable than Once More ‘Round The Sun in future years. However, turning out an album solely on that epic complexity probably would not have worked as well here at fifteen years on. Mastodon had once again in 2014 provided their newest music in being as solid as any act going. That solidity isn’t so much based in the actual iron ore as was in their past releases, but instead was the result based upon the solid ground unearthed that helped in creating it.

Once More ‘Round The Sun: Result – 87%
Album of The Year, 2014; Genre: Rock

– Ian Billen