Mastodon: Emperor Of Sand (Reprise Records)
I like Mastodon. I liked them ever since I heard March Of The Fire Ants. They have developed into an interesting band on record. Technically brilliant, not afraid to play what they wish, moving from skull crushingly heavy punk fused aggression to the progressiveness of Crack The Skye through to the more mainstream and popular recent releases of The Hunter and Once More Round The Sun. Emperor Of Sand continues in the more accessible vein of their last two releases.
Show Yourself and Sultan’s Curse mix Brann Dailor’s astonishing drummer with the mixed vocals of Drailor, Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds. Mastodon has always had a recognisable sound and Emperor Of Sand enhances that with some subtle and clever use of Hammond and mellotron. The swirling mix and rampaging gallop remains as does the fuzzy dirty guitar sound. Emperor Of Sand allows you the instant access of a top release but demands repeated listens to appreciate the complexity and nuances that are contained. Listen to Precious Stones three times in a row and unlock hidden treasures each time. It’s a superb song.
There’s plenty of diversions away from the kicking out of the jams. The intricate progressiveness of Roots Remain twists and turns, the guitar work of hinds and Bill Kelliher quite beautiful, the drumming just incredible and the piano outro perfect. Ancient Kingdom travels at pace, riffs galore but full of melody as it moves to an epic climax. It really gets better the more you play it. I know the band don’t like the metal tag but they still hit bloody hard. Clandestiny smashes from the opening bar, rugged vocals and brutal riffage the order of the day here before some fantastic harmonies add texture and depth and a change of pace. Swirling synthesisers give it a hugely progressive feel, albeit a progressive feel from many years ago.
It is retro and yet fresh. Andromeda has a djent touch to it. Emperor Of Sand is likely to be one of my favourite releases of the year. It needs repeated listening and investment. More challenging than The Hunter, 50 minutes of astonishingly well-crafted and performed music; strap yourself in and enjoy the ride. Several times. 9/10
Lock Up: Demonization (Listenable)
UK grindcore/death metal side project return with their first release in six years. It’s fast as a racehorse on steroids as you’d expect from any band featuring Shane Embury, Nicholas Barker and Anton Reisenegger. The arrival of vocalist Kevin Sharp in place of At The Gates’ Tomas Lindberg has given the band a new edge and it blasts a hole in the wall as soon as the opening three minute track Blood And Emptiness kicks in. It’s no-nonsense stuff, 110mph drumming, raging guitar and bass and Sharp’s guttural vocals crawling all over the place.
Most of the tracks sit firmly in the 2-3 minute camp, which is not a surprise. The pace slows on the title track, a pounding behemoth which drips with sinister malice. Not for long though as Demons Raging opens the artillery once again. Grindcore is a challenge to many, a wall of noise with little in between. Lock Up stick very much to the script but have enough to pull in many who like their metal hard, fast and more aggressive than a Pamplona bull with the elastic around its bollocks. Brutal but enjoyable. 8/10
Mantar: The Spell (Nuclear Blast)
Sludge metal from Hamburg? Why not. This heavy as fuck EP courtesy of Erinc (Drums and vocals) and Hanno (guitar and vocals) is just the job if you want to get unwanted relatives to leave. Only three tracks, but face melting ones all the same. Age Of The Vril is the pick of the bunch with some quite monstrous riffs. The title track has a guest appearance from Okoi Jones of Swiss extreme outfit Bolzer. An acquired taste for sure but worth a listen, even if it is just when the mother in law has settled in for the day. 7/10