Once More ‘Round the Sun isn’t exaclty the kind of title that inspires excitement. It screams: “Here we go guys, another fucking album, another fucking touring cycle,” but the disc does provide a break in the monotony that has come from a band that is so good at one thing that they have begun to bore themselves.
Mastodon are the kind of metal craftsman who have proven themselves capable of anything—well, just about anything. The band have never put together a mainstream hit, but that hasn’t seemed to bother their massive fan base, or the critics that salivate at the drop of their name. Apparently the only people bugged by the lack of a massive radio hit are Mastodon and their major label, Reprise. The band have thrived on the duality of their obsession with brutal sludge and heady, psychedelic prog rock. The band lurched full-on progressive on 2009’s Crack the Skye. Although virtuosic, Crack was numbing in its monotony and irritating because of Brett Hinds’ and Troy Sanders’ forced, nasal singing. And it lacked the visceral impact of the group’s previous concept albums like Blood Mountain and Leviathan.
In 2011, the group made an awkward, bumbling transition into mainstream rock. Produced by regular Dr. Dre and Eminem collaborator Mike Elizonodo, The Hunter sounded like a garage band’s mix tape compared to the group’s previous work. Mastodon continue their quest to reach the mainstream metal audience on Once More ‘Round the Sun with the help of Foo Fighters/Evanescence producer Nick Raskulinecz. Forget the merits of current mainstream metal—there just aren’t any in the bland, angry, misogynistic world of Nickelback and all their clones that inhabit Loudwire radio stations—Mastodon have set themselves to creating another metal album with mass appeal, despite the many hazards, and this time they have succeeded.
No, ‘Round the Sun does not provide an hour of cohesive, crushing metal—this is more of a singles record—but the band do succeed in putting a mainstream body on their psychedelic sludge metal. The band’s collaboration with Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme on Blood Mountain’s “Colony of Birchman” is probably the best reference point for fans of the band. “Tread Lightly” hits like a mix between Tool and Sabbath, delivered with the best current metal drummer alive in Brann Dailor. “The Motherload” smashes together guitar hooks and a processed chorus that bubbles up like a bong hit that could appeal both to modern metal heads and their dads. The band retain the mystical nature they have draped themselves in but sell it like Zeppelin and Sabbath, not like their latter-day comrades such as Neurosis or Today Is the Day. Mastodon are no longer trying to build anything new, but instead take their rightful place alongside the legends. Yes, they are trying too hard on this latest disc, but the band are as close as they have ever been to speaking a language that everyone can understand.