Every now and again an album lands in our inbox which is so ahead of the game the challenge actually ends up trying to retain some level of composure when piecing together the review. With it being Mastodon it was a pretty safe bet that this was going to be a great album because lets face it, since the release of their debut Remission in 2002 they just haven't put a single foot wrong. There are those who prefer the proggier side displayed on Crack The Skye and others who lean more towards the approach taken recently with the shorter, punchier tracks (of course there are those who love it all as well) so when the band started trickling new music through to the masses the intrigue was certainly there as far as which of these roads they would go down. Well, in all honestly with Emperor Of Sand they've taken elements from both approaches and blended them together in what will almost certainly be one of the contenders for album of the year. The savage heaviness of the Blood Mountain era is here in spades, alongside the overwhelming catchiness channelled from The Hunter or Once More 'Round The Sun and it has all been put together with the huge level of scope achieved on Crack The Skye. Is this the perfect Mastodon album? It's difficult to declare anything as 'perfect' but if you don't want to word it that way then it is damn close.
Opening with the huge Sultan's Curse you are immediately thrown in to a journey rooted in death, bleakness and hope, with the band focusing on themes inspired by close friends and family suffering from cancer - something all four band members have experienced in recent years. The vocals from all three of Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor strain through in this largely anguished tone, a feeling carried through by the music underneath. You look at a track like Roots Remain; the back and forth vocals between Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor build and build towards the back end of the song as Brent Hinds unleashes a crushing solo all whilst a bass driven desperate sounding riff grumbles underneath, this before it all closes out with a gentle piano - it all maintains this intense level of drama that genuinely feels all encompassing with every single listen.
In the past couple of months the band have been releasing short videos giving a bit of an insight behind the writing process in the classic Mastodon tongue-in-cheek style. In a lot of these clips they frequently mention that guitarist Bill Kelliher cannot stop writing riffs, and if there's something this album has got in abundance it is indeed RIFFS. Kelliher's partnership with Brent Hinds on guitar has proven to become one of the most important in the history of Metal. The fact that this band are seven albums deep and these two are still able to be as intuitive and innovative as they are, carving out guitar-work which conveys an elevated intelligence in songwriting through a fine balance of complexity and getting the basics right is beyond impressive. Add to that one of the finest drummers of his generation and a bassist/vocalist as powerful as Troy Sanders and you've got a band which is simply untouchable at the moment. At this point it feels only right to cover the excellent final track on this album, Jaguar God. Whilst the title of it sounds like the name of a fragrance the toilet attendant in your local Yates might spray on you on a Saturday night, musically it is one of the finest moments in this band's career. Clocking in at just under eight minutes, the gentle opening caves in about midway through in to what can only be described as an absolute barrage of chaos alongside some of the finest vocals they've ever laid down - put it this way, in one song Mastodon have produced a higher level of quality than some bands are capable of across a sixty-minute album. It sounds incredibly simplistic but the best thing about this album, but certainly this track in particular, is the fact that it doesn't sound like you are listening to four individuals showcasing their best efforts, rather it feels like all four elements have truly combined in to one amalgamated monster.
Overall then, once again Mastodon have produced an album of such startling quality it serves as a perfect reminder that it'd be insane not to consider them as one of the most important acts in heavy music, not just at the moment but of all time. Almost certainly going to be on top of the pile of those album of the year lists we simply cannot wait to hear some of these new tracks making their way on to the set-lists for live shows over the next couple of years. Unreal scenes.