4. Mastodon, 'Emperor of Sand'
The great strides Mastodon made on breakthrough albums like Leviathan and Crack the Skye have given way to small tweaks. An ambitious, cancer-inspired narrative framework aside, the band's seventh LP ends up sounding like a refinement of its predecessors Once More 'Round the Sun and The Hunter than a bold next step. Still, everything that has made the Atlanta quartet one of the most beloved heavy bands on earth is here in spades, from raging, dynamic prog-metal ("Sultan's Curse," "Ancient Kingdom") to hooky hard rock à la Queens of the Stone Age ("Show Yourself," which shows off drummer Brann Dailor's supple pipes) and an appropriately majestic multipart closer ("Jaguar God"). H.S.