Mastodon: Once More ’Round The Sun

Relatively melodic and accessible release from newest wave of metal behemoths.

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As old as the century itself, Georgian metallurgists Mastodon have in the past been a pretty ambitious, even overwrought band, often insisting that they are not metal at all but a unique, customised rock mutation dallying with thrash, psychedelia, sludge, prog and punk. Well, despite the conceptual outreach of their previous efforts, it can officially be said that on the strength of this release, much as if it quacks it’s probably a duck, Mastodon are basically Metal.

That’s their bread and butter, and that’s what Once More ’Round The Sun is, when the smoke and dry ice has cleared. The blurb accompanying this album talks about them pushing at the barriers of rock, but if that’s the case here, they’ve been pushing them in the wrong direction.

There’s a brief, bucolic preamble to opener Tread Lightly but once the power chords crash down like a tree trunk onto a country road, all the familiar tropes are in place – the endless shifts and changes, like a dodgy cab driver taking you round the houses at breakneck speed, the impressive percussion (particularly on The Motherload), like a bionic, pneumatic octopus playing with baseball bats in lieu of sticks, the guitar solos connecting the song segments like rope bridges – and that’s to say nothing of the gory album artwork, akin to male adolescent brain tissue liquefied and power-hosed onto a canvas.

This is probably one of Mastodon’s less pretentious albums, as well as being impressively slick and well-woven, on which they’ve honed down to their well-oiled, well-practised essentials. And it’s undeniably effective, the title track in particular, like a charabanc full of hell-raising, hairy ne’er-do-wells circuiting the aforementioned giant orb before leaving it to the relative calm of its plasma eruptions.

There are occasional moments of lucidity, as on Asleep In The Deep and Halloween, the odd unorthodox effect, such as the snake drilling that briefly undermines Aunt Lisa but mostly, for all its restless changes, like a kaleidoscope it’s essentially the same elements endlessly rearranged throughout.

It’s tempting to encourage Mastodon to be a bit more experimental, but if anything, they should maybe strip back still further, simplify more – achieve the sheer, elemental essence of an AC/DC, than which there is no more powerful cutting implement on earth. Still, for their fans accustomed to the clattering joyride only Mastodon provide, this will suffice for now.

David Stubbs

David Stubbs is a music, film, TV and football journalist. He has written for The Guardian, NME, The Wire and Uncut, and has written books on Jimi Hendrix, Eminem, Electronic Music and the footballer Charlie Nicholas.