MASTODON's continued inching toward an accessible rock sound is no doubt going to be met with enmity by some, which sucks, considering they play at a higher level than damned near anyone in metal music. Rare is the occasion when a band as complex and progressive as MASTODON is sacrifices none of their core identity while transitioning to the major markets. This band and OPETH represent the pinnacles of metal for this generation, and in MASTODON's case, the proof is in the sludge pudding yet again with their new album "Once More 'Round the Sun".
What MASTODON tinkered with on "The Hunter" and now even further on "Once More 'Round the Sun" is a natural evolution for a band that can only have so much more to say as a sludge prog giant. Unlike what SUPERTRAMP and GENESIS did ages ago, MASTODON hasn't taken the immediate pickup junction leading to the radio friendly highway. Not yet, anyway.
First and foremost, MASTODON is way too hyperactive with their parts to ever be considered a straight-up rock band. Brann Dailor alone throws out more fills per second than any vanilla pop-rock drummer could possibly handle. All that being said, what MASTODON attempts and easily achieves on "Once More 'Round the Sun" is to streamline instead of go mainstream.
"The Motherload" is this album's equivalent to "Curl of the Burl" last time around on "The Hunter", but this time, MASTODON uses their jacked-up harmonies and soaring choruses to drag their cumbersome sonic might upwards. The chorus is the best Ozzy Osbourne dig the man himself hasn't done in eons. "The Motherload" may sit uncomfortably with some listeners, but MASTODON effectively creates an addictive power jam that can readily slip onto FM. However, FM is just not that cool, and besides, MASTODON extends the song beyond conventional running time for a radio cut with their extensive progressive bridge and solo section, as if to spite. Love it or hate it, "The Motherload" is a pure rock blaster coaster with more going on for it than first meets the ear.
"High Road" subsequently minces all the effervescence staked by "Tread Lightly" and "The Motherload" with a rhythmic, punishing march straight out of "Leviathan", plus Gene Simmons-esque yelps on the verses. If MASTODON's purpose is to serve reminder why they come by their namesake honestly, "High Road"'s stamping grooves handle that resolutely. At the end of the album, MASTODON revisits "Leviathan" a second time on the seven-minute-plus "Diamond in the Witch House". The difference between these songs and "Leviathan" comes down to matters of finesse and in the case of "High Road", uplifted choruses and an otherworldly bridge at the end.
Even the title track teases with a rolling intro bred out of "Leviathan" before accelerating a few clicks. The pure rock furrows here are a charm, not detriment. From other bands, it might come off a bit pedestrian, but MASTODON has the capacity to reach the stars and that's where they take their listeners and lets them bask before pulling the plug one second before three minutes. "Once More 'Round the Sun" feels like a quick dart to the edge before "Chimes at Midnight" grinds away with some of the heaviest grooves on the album. Troy Sanders slogs his bass at times like Steve Harris on "Chimes at Midnight", but mostly he provides a knotty undercurrent for Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher to stake out massive layers that are, as always, a pleasurable chore trying to keep up with.
Later, "Feast Your Eyes" and "Halloween" dive right back into thrill zone mode with fast and colossal rock attacks that get rotated and chewed up by detailed progressions leading into their swirling choruses and in the case of "Feast Your Eyes", a beat-crazy finale from Brann Dailor. His ridiculously zippy rolls and hi hat rides on "Halloween" puts any doubt MASTODON can rock and throttle better than anyone of their kind.
"Once More 'Round the Sun" may have a few extra sugar cubes than MASTODON threw into their slurry during the Relapse years, but it's heavier than "The Hunter" and with the exception of "Diamond in the Witch House", the songs are wrapped with efficiency. The album's only fault (and it's not much of one) is some regurgitation of "Leviathan" that has more to do with MASTODON honoring their past as they continue to take Hulk-sized leaps forward.
Every major label band should make the moment count with zero fear factor as MASTODON does. Not many bands could get away with the screeching vocal filters and zany key floaters they dump into "Aunt Lisa". Chaos reigns all over that track and still it comes back to a subliminal funk rock groove that never gets lost amidst the screaming ersatz and clouting mayhem. Out of nowhere comes a cheerleader roll featuring THE COAT HANGERS chanting "Hey! Ho! Let's fucking go! Hey! Ho! Let's get up and rock 'n roll!" Mainstream? Yeah, right.
MASTODON are obviously from another planet. Let's just be happy they're occupying ours for a while.