The World's Greatest Metal Band, Once AgainMastodon is, right now, the world's greatest metal band. You might not agree with that statement, but you can't make a stronger case for anyone else. The glory days of Metallica, Black Sabbath, and even Slayer and Iron Maiden are long behind them. Opeth might not even be a metal band anymore. No other upstarts even come close. Granted, a few of you out there don't quite understand what the appeal is, but then I suppose there were a few who didn't understand the appeal of Master of Puppets in its day.
Just in case you can't tell where I stand, I'll say this little bit: "Colony of Birchmen" and "Curl of the Burl" are my two favorite songs of the 21st century, and I state that without hesitation.
The band's latest, Once More 'round the Sun, is another worthy edition in their catalog. The main reason for that is the band's longstanding secret to success, excellent songwriting and excellent performances. Shh! Don't let the secret out, or everyone will start doing it.
Writing catchy songs with killer riffs is the first step. Mastodon have long excelled at this. While they're often touted as a "progressive" sludge metal band because of the sheer number of notes they play, it's always been clear to me that their songs are, with few exceptions, really quite simple. They could be stripped down to fewer notes and be perfectly recognizable, though less dazzling. As I recently observed, it makes more sense to compare them to a balls-out rock 'n' roll band like Red Fang than it does to compare them to prog metallers like The Ocean.
But to ignore those extra notes completely would be a mistake as well. They will go off on brief, noodling tangents (see the beginning of "Aunt Lisa"), but these serve only to grab your attention before going into purposeful riffs, much as any guitar lead will do. The multitude of notes, played with such high energy, is what makes Mastodon so attention-grabbing.
It's the big choruses, though, that keep you coming back. And what of those nasal, not particularly skillful vocals? I'll admit that they're an acquired taste, but they actually do a great service. Think of it this way. You probably sound awful singing along with someone like Bruce Dickinson. The less-than-awe-inspiring vocal talents on display encourage you to sing along with the choruses, and that's what makes them so infectious.
All of these things can essentially be said of any of the band's past few releases to a greater or lesser extent. There is nothing radically different on Once More 'round the Sun. Instead, it strikes a bit of a balance between the somewhat more rock-oriented The Hunter and the more progressive side of Leviathan/Blood Mountain/Crack the Skye.
As I have many times before when discussing Mastodon, I will make direct comparisons to Metallica. Each album from Remission through The Hunter is an analog to Kill 'Em All through Metallica (the black album). Here is where they diverge, and set themselves above Metallica. They did what Metallica should have done in '94, i.e., go back to their roots without losing their songwriting sensibilities.
And that's what makes Mastodon the greatest metal band in the world.
The Verdict: 5 out of 5 stars