Ever since the band’s 2002 debut, Mastodon has refused to stand still. From album to album, the Atlanta-based outfit has covered everything from furious caveman metal with Remission to spaced-out progressive rock on Crack the Skye, with The Hunter even flirting with streamlined hard rock n’ roll.
For the first time, however, Mastodon hasn’t labored to take that next adventurous step; there’s no blazing torch. Instead, Once More ‘Round the Sun finds the band consolidating its strengths and paving over its weak points, resulting in one of the Mastodon’s most focused albums to date.This laser-sharp focus comes in large part from the band’s consistent use of hook-driven choruses, first utilized on 2011’s The Hunter, which anchor the majority of the album’s tracks to the sophisticated rhythm-work and heavy, melodic guitar leads that have defined them throughout the years.
The album’s second track, The Motherload, rides along a groove-laden riff before launching into a sunbathed, sky-soaring chorus courtesy of drummer Brann Dailor. It’s as life-affirming as it is infectious and it’s undoubtedly a highlight. Elsewhere, Asleep in the Deep finds the band’s craft at its most atmospheric. Lumbering and psychedelic in equal measure, the mid-album cut also finds Mastodon at its best vocally. Three of the band’s members harmonize and trade-off vocals throughout in a display that’s as impressive as it is hypnotic.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a Mastodon album without a head-banging cornucopia of sludgy, monolithic riffs. Penultimate track Halloween barrels full-speed ahead into a full-on metal onslaught, stampeding and smashing its way to an exhilarating close over a blistering guitar solo. Chimes at Midnight, the second single, sports a sinister, cyclical riff weaving patterns over and under Troy Sanders’s surging bass before exploding into a mammoth refrain – one of the most crushing the band has put to tape.
Mastodon may not have broken through unexplored sonic territory this time ’round, but that’s alright. In more ways than one, Once More ‘Round the Sun feels like a career statement, drawing equally from the band’s early era primordial barbarism and the pop-infused songwriting of The Hunter. Heavy, melodic and infectious, the album is a coalescence of everything Mastodon into a concise, memorable package. Just be sure to turn up the volume.