If I may be indulged with an overwrought metaphor, being a Mastodon fan is kind of like driving along the coast and gazing out the window: the view in the near field keeps changing – buildings, beach, cliffs – but the view out to the horizon remains more or less the same, give or take a few clouds or whatever. Whatever Mastodon does, it has a certain emotional, ragged-yet-anthemic quality which is always there, but sometimes the more up-front aspects are expressed in a psychedelic, unpredictable way and sometimes the attitude is more blatant and direct. Thus far Crack The Skye is the epitome of the more abstract approach, while The Hunter went for directness, especially in terms of groove. Now Once More ‘Round The Sun further refines the latter approach, but this time the melody is cranked up to 10. A great example is the chorus of “The Motherload.” It’s practically arena rock – albeit a rather skewed, dark take on arena rock. “High Road” does a great job of building upon the sound established on The Hunter, while “Chimes At Midnight” returns to some of the more moody-then-chaotic moments of Crack The Skye but without quite the same level of sophistication.
“Asleep In The Deep” is an intriguing song, especially its instantly-classic-sounding opening riff. Something about it recalls Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same” – the 12-string electric guitar, the shifting tempos. “Feast Your Eyes” has a bit of a latter-day Rush meets punk feel. Perhaps the biggest surprise is “Aunt Lisa,” which features an intro that taps into an unmistakably Frank Zappa-inspired sensibility. All told, this is an album which plays up Mastodon’s more melodic and direct side, with enough of the out-there moments to remind you that a certain kind of weirdness will always be a part of the band’s personality, but if you’re waiting for another full-on psychedelic, progressive weirdness-fest like Crack The Skye, my guess is that we’ll be getting that next time.