Review: Mastodon's 'Emperor of Sand' Is Their Most Ambitious in Years

Our take on the proggy metal band's seventh album

Mastodon's seventh album is 'Emperor of Sand
.' Credit: Jimmy Hubbard

Perma-frowned doomsayers Mastodon are back with yet another friendly reminder that someday everyone will die. This time, it comes in the guise of seventh album Emperor of Sand, a lofty concept piece about a man wandering a desert with a curse over his head set to swirling, frenetic guitars and gut-rumbling drums. "Don't waste your time/If it's the last thing that you do," goes the chorus to Emperor's boogie-metal "Precious Stones," and the band largely took that advice to heart. The LP is their most ambitious outing since 2009's proggy Crack the Skye – following two relatively pared-down LPs – and at its best (the radio-ready pop-rocker "Show Yourself," the triumphal outro of "Ancient Kingdom," the Zappa-inspired synthesizer-and-bells duet midway through "Clandestiny") it's a glorious metal miasma. At its worst (guitarist-singer Brent Hinds' mumbly, off-key acoustic intro to "Jaguar God," the noodle-y "Steambreather"), it's a potent reminder that, yes, indeed, time is precious. Mostly, they find a middle ground that pays homage to the burly heft of Mastodon past and the heady rock they've always aspired to make.