Mastodon_Once More Round the SunMastodon’s 2011 record The Hunter represented a significant, if predictable, turning point in their career. Having earned a respectable degree of mainstream popularity and critical acclaim through heady, yet accessible psychedelic sludge records, Mastodon very deliberately decided to meet their peaking success by transforming into essentially a heavy rock band. The prog had reached critical mass, but Mastodon clearly had one thing left to prove in their ever-shifting sonic palate, and that is their capacity for radio-rock stardom. The Hunter obviously didn’t quite launch the group into Black Album levels of mega-stardom, but it was nonetheless surreal to hear “Curl of the Burl” and “Dry Bone Valley” pop up alongside the likes of Disturbed and Drowning Pool on the local buttrock radio station.

After the relative success of The Hunter, it really should surprise no one that its successor Once More ‘Round the Sun is as poppy and gritless as it is. The aggro-sludge of Remission and Leviathan has necessarily been jettisoned and the expansive psychedelia of Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye axed completely, leaving in its place bouncy, heavy rock buffed to a waxy sheen and stuffed to the brim with chorus after sickly-sweet chorus. Even its heaviest track – the single “High Road” – goes nowhere near the tar-black heave that once was Mastodon’s signature. Instead, it stomps something like a prog-sludge Foo Fighters.

There’s still some prog superfluity left over from the days of Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye in the guitar playing of Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds, but it’s mostly residual – on “Chimes at Midnight,” arguably the record’s moodiest track, the band dwells in the atmospheric arpeggiating for a scant 30 seconds before settling back into a bouncy pocket. “Tread Lightly” and “The Motherload” similarly bounce with a sense of triumph and celebration, as if Mastodon were enlivened by their newfound mainstream success.

mastodon-2014At its best, it’s infectious. The title track and “Halloween” are propulsive hard rock numbers made rhythmic and robust by Brann Dailor’s unusually restrained drumming. He’s still busier than most, but his performance is tastefully laid back, and the songs are groovier for it. The aforementioned opening tracks “Tread Lightly” and “The Motherload” similarly crackle with more enthusiasm and sheer joy than anything else in the Mastodon discography. It’s so breathlessly benign and contagiously friendly that it almost high-fives you right out of the speaker, daring you not to let your guard down and finally join the party.

However, the good-time radio rock party inevitably comes with the price of homogenization. Once More… is an easy record to like because Mastodon have lowered the bar for themselves; they are no longer the fearless, hungry explorers of the nethermost reaches of intelligent heavy metal they once rightly touted themselves to be, and it’s not long before Once More… begins to come off as a kind of artistic resignation, the product of trailblazers no longer interested in – or perhaps even capable of – satisfying the increasingly high standards of headiness expected of them. It’s hard to wonder where else they could have gone after climbing Blood Mountain and cracking open the sky itself, so to speak.

This is why I feel so compelled to go soft on Mastodon in 2014. It would have been easy to amplify my fanboy indignation and dig into them for releasing a record as frankly artless as Once More…, but I also believe a complete critique should weigh in the intentions of the artist as well as that of the audience. A good majority of us might have wished for another metal record of the narrative and sonic ambition of Leviathan and Crack the Skye, but Mastodon are clearly done making classic albums, and I think they deserve the right to lower the bar they set so high with grace and earnestness. Is it not okay for Mastodon to chill out a little and pen a record meant for a high school “party in the woods”? Mastodon know that mainstream contentedness hardly breeds hungry metal, and they know it’s high time to enjoy their success and act like the de facto rockstars they’ve become.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps MP3
Label: Reprise Records
Websites: mastodonrocks.com  |  facebook.com/Mastodon
Release Dates: Out Worldwide on 05.24.2014.

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  • RyanM1985

    The chorus is out of tune. It sounds weird. I think I like the song.

    • Weirwolfe

      I agree.

  • I thought I was the only one who thought the album was quite…. you know.. Bland and Riffless. Now you have confirmed my suspicion, is not a bad album (Better than most indide Generic Sound Alike out there) but still… I crave that complexity in the guitar work

    Nonetheless I will come to like this album (as I did the hunter…….. 2 years later) And i will keep myself content listening to the old Sludge-Fest until they decide to go back to their roots, and kill every single person with a Megaton of mud from Georgia.

  • gh00st

    Brilliant. Especially the last paragraph.

  • Kalsten

    I would love to like Mastodon. Their music is great, but I have a big problem with the voices. It is true that they improved a lot during the last albums, but I cannot bear them :(

    • tomasjacobi

      Really? I like their vocals a lot on the albums. It’s a different story when they try to sing live though… (And “try” is really the key word here)

  • André Snyde Lopes

    They are free to rest on their well-deserved laurels, just as we are to criticize this album and it’s subpar musicianship and ambition. I personally don’t agree with the decision to “go soft” on this album just because they’ve recorded better music in the past.

  • I’m not a big Mastodon fan either way but I’m just guessing that calling shit “hard rock” because it sounds accessible is the new True Metal People-thing to do.

    I’m listening to the song you posted from YouTube and it sounds “heavier” than bands who were rightfully and indisputably categorized as “heavy metal” (not just “that’s metal!” ala Nathan Explosion) in past decades.

    When exactly did heavy metal start getting some fake punk ethos where people are sellouts if the music is a little accessible and not just “moar brutal!” (I guess what Mastodon really needs is to incorporate some tired-ass death vox too so they can sound exactly like tens of thousands of other nonsensical bands…better than entertaining people in general with music that resembles songs and such.)

    Heavy metal has always been bigger-than-life, has more often than not strived to break into the mainstream, and has been characterized and championed by the likes of Black Sabbath, solo Ozzy, Judas Priest, etc. How in the holy name of hell is this not heavier than Ozzy’s eighties solo albums? Are they all just “hard rock” now too?

    I think it’s time to take back the word “metal” from all the neckbearded “non-conformists” and start calling it “heavy metal” again. “Hard rock” was and is stuff like Aldo Nova, Night Ranger, and (in this decade) the Foo Fighters. Mastodon sounds nothing like the Foo Fighters and are a fuck-ton heavier. Even now.

    • Is this copypasta?

      • Apparently it’s just as difficult to figure out if I or someone else had previously posted it as it is to address it.

        • Oh well, if it’s not, then keep on fighting the good genre mislabeling fight.

          • The fact that every single paragraph mentioned Mastodon would at least imply that I had to have typed something in response.

            I just listened to this entire album on Spotify and absolutely none of it sounded at all radio-friendly. Where’s the “good time radio rock” single on this album?

            There’s “genre-mislabeling” and then there’s just being full of shit.

          • Is this record geared towards radio friendliness? I really can’t disagree with that. Not compared with anyone else (not Ozzy, not the Foo fighters) but just the previous output of the band by itself. It’s catchy and really tame.
            Is it fair to label it Radio Friendly Hard Rock just because of it?, in your opinion it might be not. But at least for me that I have followed them for some time I find it quite accurate.
            And, to me at least, even if I don’t really champion Ozzy as the be-all-end-all of metal I think his eighties solo albums had a backbone to them that I just can’t find in this one.

          • So which song do you think they intended as the single?

            I won’t argue it’s not “as heavy” as Leviathan. And yes: it’s tamer than Remission. I don’t find any of this radio-friendly…unless you have a station in your area that specifically markets itself as a heavy metal station.

          • Even something as inconsequential as the track lengths reeks of radio friendliness, but if I would have to pick, the motherload probably has the most straightforwardness and general accessibility of a good radio hit.

          • Zadion

            Most places have a rock radio station these days. Even in my backwater, hillbilly town, we have a rock station. Although it primarily plays post-grunge/modern hard rock shit like Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, and all that nonsense, I’ve still caught the super notorious metal bands such as Children of Bodom a significant number of times. I believe that’s what these guys mean by “radio friendly” – the Mastodon of today would fit well in on that radio station and no one would tell a difference.

          • I don’t think my local rock station has ever played Bodom. They play Slayer (and old/good Metallica) now and then but that’s because they are so insanely popular now….even with the Slipknot or Volbeat crowds.

          • JWG

            This actually explains very well why I can’t understand the label “radio rock” applied to Mastodon. I’m relating it to my own anecdotal experience of Modern Rock Radio, in my location, which doesn’t play anything heavier than Foo Fighters (that one recent heavier tune excluded, it’s “too much”).

            About a decade ago one of the local stations had a regular segment every Friday where they’d play 3 new songs and ask the audience which they’d like to hear most in regular rotation. The DJ decided one week that he’d found a “metal” song he kind of liked by a band he just randomly discovered called “Killswitch Engage”, so he played that.

            The audience called in to his director in high numbers to *complain* about him; and he nearly got fired for deviating from the ‘safer’ MoRo that dominated the station. Since then it has just got progressively safer and less willing to deviate from the formula.

            Current Mastodon wouldn’t fit. Neither would “The Hunter”. The station doesn’t mind ‘heavy’ per se, but it has to be a certain kind of non-threatening nu-metal ‘heavy’ or post-grunge ‘heavy’.

    • Mike Eckman

      Well said man. I honestly agree with everything you said.

      As for this record, Ive never been a fan of Mastodon, but I like what I hear on this album, Who knows, maybe they are making music for me now. Thats cool in my book!

    • Carlos Marrickvillian

      Bang on!

    • JWG

      Maybe i should have saved my own lengthy opinion on the album for a response here; instead of debuting it elsewhere, and for that matter right between several posts representing exactly the sort of not-terribly-logical dismissal that you rightly decry. You know the site, so I won’t repeat it.

      I enjoy OMRTS for three reasons, only one of which got any kind of response (the first one):

      1. The first few tracks remind me somehow of Gojira, though clearly not as heavy and with a tad more noodly guitar soloing than you’d see in any ‘stereotypical’ Gojira tune. Given how often I heard that Gojira were the “French Mastodon” until I listened for myself, it’s kind of amusing that I got any sense of Mastodon as “the American Gojira”. Don’t you think?

      2. During and after those tracks, the other sense I got was that there are more than a few call-backs to each of the previous three Mastodon albums. Some are subtle thematic hints, some are more audible refrain echoes. I think its particular balance of moving forward while looking back is quite well executed.

      3. Some of the more random moments just tickle me. I might be more forgiving because I’ve been listening to a lot of Sigh’s just-post-Scorn Defeat output, so I’m oddly primed for odd tangents. Hail Horror Hail is nothing *but* odd tangents strung together, for instance. I’d like to see more of that from Mastodon even while they explore this so-called “radio rock” phase…

      • I’ve only listened to the album twice now so I don’t feel qualified to speak on it…but your review is interesting. I need to spend more time with it. I listened to Leviathan (for the first time!) the other day and actually thought it was pretty cool. (I don’t know why I never really listened to these guys before.)

        • For me, they slipped through the cracks of a shit-ton of music I’ve been trying to keep up with.

          I like this new album quite a bit, even if it’s a departure from their old material. It shows an evolving band, not necessarily a sell-out (which means different things to different people.)

          I compare this album to Opeth’s “Heritage”… not for everyone, even the die-hard fans, but certainly a solid record, well written, and full of good riffs to keep you coming back for more. :)

          • Ironically I have to admit now that I heard one of these songs on the local “mainstream rock” station lol.

            I passed on the vinyl at my local record store recently. It came with a poster and some other promo item…I couldn’t see spending 35 dollars on it though. Probably the same loud mastering as every other format.

          • Now that vinyl’s a hipster niche… they’re going to start charging for the privilege of vinyl. :(

            I’ve never been a fan of “loud” mastering myself. The worst offender in recent memory is Death Magnetic.

            I have old vinyl… but haven’t spent $40 on a bit of new vinyl. I’m not that much of an audiophile. :)

          • As a collector I’ve spent 40+ dollars on records…but that was for sealed original pressings of stuff from the eighties.

            Records were priced the same as cassettes (in my area) in the ’80s: ~$10 for new release full-lengths. CDs were 15. Ironically CDs are still about 15 (and less) whilst vinyl is ridiculously priced. And the pressing quality isn’t usually as good as it was back then either because they’re all done in limited runs (ie: little-to-no quality control.)

          • If I was missing an original 80’s Maiden pressing of one of their albums, I might pay the price for it (I’d assume it would be pretty pricey)…

            CD’s never followed the market changes that vinyl and even cassettes did in the 70’s and 80’s. The RIAA kept prices artificially high, and now with digital distribution, the premium of CD prices is becoming a bit silly (for me, at least.)

            The only permanent storage medium is keeping perpetual backups on HDD… CD’s have proven to be shit for lifespans (now that some of the CD’s made in the early 80’s are suffering from laser rot in larger numbers than anticipated.)

            But I am proud I kept my vinyl collection. I just wish I had bought more bands (I bought vinyl for my favorite bands…) I wish I had some Kreator on vinyl… I had a chance to get some back in the 80’s… but I needed gas money more. :)

            Ahh youth.

          • I wish I had an original pressing of Coma of Souls. Probably my favorite Kreator album. An unopened copy of Powerslave on vinyl usually goes for about 200 but you can often find a well-kept used one for twenty-five -to- thirty-five IME.

            I use XLD for archiving CDs. (EAC or dBpowerAMP are also good if you use Windows.) I back up all of my CD rips to 25 Gb BD-Rs as a secondary backup to my external HDD.

          • I use btsync to keep my playlists current, and rsync to do archival backups. I am not as thorough as I should be, and of course that’ll probably cost me in the long run. :)

            After a couple of HDD failures, I’ve been more meticulous in keeping my collection proper.

            Wow… I have Powerslave… but alas, I opened it. :) And love the album too. I spent hours listening to Maiden and picking out the neat little things Derek Riggs hid in the album artwork (Somewhere in Time was a classic in that regard.)

            Oh, I use Linux tools, as I am not a Windows/Mac user. :) I have an XP machine for my old strategy games, but that’s about all the windows I do on a daily basis.

            But I do love cdparanoia for ripping properly…. it’s the beast. And with OS X, you can use Fink to get a decent port of cdparanoia which will solve any dusty media and dodgy CD/DVD drives.

            (I really need to get a BD-R for my CD rips… since I have no real offsite backup…) :-)

    • Nathalie O’Flynn

      As far as I am concerned, Mastodon is regarded as sludge metal, so whoever labeled it “heavy metal” doesn’t know his sub-genres. There are a variety of bands incorreclty labeled out there. Many bands labeled Melodic Death, when clearly they left out the melody out altogether during the production.

  • brutal_sushi

    Mastodon has been that band that almost everyone says you have to like them… Nothing they have done has ever clicked with me… Leviathan had me zoning out in a long car ride… But their music was never immediate… It felt like I really needed to invest the proper time to really listen to them, no distractions, very loud, and alone… But the new one grabbed me from the go and Im fucking LOVING it!!! The Motherload is just beyond catchy, I have been singing the chorus for the past week, non stop.

  • JFW, you really had me, you really did. I was waiting for the obligatory sub 3 “this isn’t metal enough” score and then BOOM…3.5.

    But calling it “artless” is a bit harsh, no? Maybe in function but certainly not in form. These guys still have a sonic profile all their own even if it’s not delivered through that cerebral sludge mix that they popularized with albums like Leviathan and CtS.

    Personal note: I saw them on the CtS tour and they played the whole CtS album and then a second best of set. Let me tell you, these guys absolutely roc….whoops…

    • They don’t just rock, they “BUTTROCK” on a playlist with Disturbed and Dave Grohl! ;)

      • Let’s not forget about Tool.

        • OT: I don’t really like Tool. I’ve been very indifferent to them since I saw them in ’93.

          • I was one of those obnoxious fans that thought they were the best band alive. After 10000 days I sorta outgrew them. I warmed up to them again when I knew about six months ago they were doing their first concert ever here in Mexico. I enjoyed the show very much but I haven’t really payed that much attention to them since.

      • To be fair, I got to listen to them in a “hard rock” station way before the Hunter. Granted, hard rock is usually used as an umbrella term over here south the border, but after their signing to Warner it was almost a given. Hell, why sign with a major if not for that?

        • I replied to your comment below but it’s awaiting moderation because I copypastaed a link lol.

          • I can’t reply there while it’s on the mod queue, but I can say over here that I actually agree with that, the language may have been more derisive than it should have, given the score.

    • Yeah I was also surprised because the language and general direction of the review was a little harsher than the actual score. A score I actually agree with.
      I also saw them on the CtS tour, I think it was their first solo date in Mexico, I think the setlist was mostly the same for that whole tour, first play the whole CtS and then a regular best-of setlist. I thought the whole venue was going to fall down when they started Bladecatcher.

      • I think this is a great review and I really enjoyed it. However, I’m just trying to understand the “artless” comment maybe a bit more.

        • JFWilliams

          Thanks Alex! To be honest, I sort of regret the “artless” comment. I suppose I meant to communicate that this record lacked the narrative ambitions and more complex, expansive songwriting of previous records, but it’s true that this doesn’t have to diminish its artistic value. Oh well. I dug this record, and it gets better every time I come back to it.

          • Gotcha. Again JFW, great review man, really!

          • JFWilliams

            Appreciate it!!

  • Zadion

    I agree with your score more than the review, funny enough. Eh, I dunno; I have a distaste for sludge metal – especially due to the shitty vocals of every single sludge or post-metal band I’ve ever heard – and I think Mastodon are doing better for themselves by veering into more “radio friendly” (this still isn’t really THAT radio friendly, though) pseudo-prog heavy metal. In other words, their earlier albums suck.

  • Carlos Marrickvillian

    Enjoyed the review, reckon you’re being a bit tuff though.
    I saw these guys play a few months ago and they absolutely ruled, crushing every skull within range of the PA! Definitely a band at the peak of their powers.
    I confess I haven’t yet heard this record and I can’t wait to have a copy and some quality time to enjoy it…party in the woods perhaps..:)

    Generally I love the creative arc this band has taken and IMO they’re one of the true genuinely progressive metal bands of our time. Creatively I think they’ve always been ambitious and generally kept things interesting for their fans. Seems like business as usual with this release, The song posted above High Road is catchy as ####, to me sounds like a band thats chiselled and refined it’s song writing. I doubt they’re done making classic albums or the more epic sprawling albums you’re nostalgic for.
    Personally I hope they sell a gazillion copies.

  • Slayerformayor

    Listening to this album right now, actually. I like it. Mastodon catches some kinda shit from someone somewhere with every new release. Have loved them since Remission. Love them now. Love the new album. I might find it a bit geared toward the Queens of the Stone Age set…but I fucking love Queens of the Stone Age…so…whatever. Still metal. Still good.

  • JFWilliams

    I suppose I’m a little late to the party here, but I don’t think you’re being fair. “Metal-hip bullshit”? Jesus. Civility, much? You sound mean. Although I do appreciate one who reads my stuff and immediately thinks “hip”. I was making an observation about their obvious (at least, in my opinion!) move towards accessible songwriting. At no point did I ever say that Mastodon sounds like Disturbed at all, and is the Foo Fighters reference really all that far-fetched? The chorus to “High Road” is quite poppy, I think – even within the framework of metal music. And I did happen to say “a sludge-metal Foo Fighters”, so I’m not even implying that the song isn’t metal. But picking this apart sort of misses the point of what I was trying to get across, which is that they are becoming more and more accessible – accessible enough for my own local “buttrock” radio station to play Mastodon songs alongside Disturbed, FF and Drowning Pool. Picking apart the particulars of my genre tagging – which I think are fine – just seems…pedantic? I guess I’m more of a “big picture” kind of guy. Isn’t heavy metal music just another form of loud guitar rock anyway?

    • “…is the Foo Fighters reference really all that far-fetched?”

      Yes. Ridiculously so.

      I didn’t miss the point by picking this apart; I just addressed instead your derision of music that isn’t brutal enough for you. I would rather radio played “buttrock” then modern pop or country. I didn’t hear shit for metal or even hard rock on the radio when I was a kid. Once a week they played Cum On Feel the Noize and We’re Not Gonna Take It.

      I think too many people have their heads so far up the ass of extreme metal that they think that’s the starting point for Real Metuhls. The most legendarily identifiable metal bands have “poppy choruses” that are somewhat accessible. Maybe Mastodon’s growing up and not interested in sounding like a million other forgettable bands who bark and grunt through terrible songwriting. It’s still not mainstream enough for the masses from what I can hear.

      The cool thing about music like this is I hear it and can almost immediately identify the band playing it. If that’s not as metal-cool as when the vocalist just sounds exactly the same as the tens of thousands of other Cookie Monster clones, then I guess I won’t be “metal” anymore. Whatever. I always liked Night Ranger anyway. Not to mention traditional distinctive heavy metal from bands that have some actual identity.

      • JFWilliams

        I’m not too late, it would seem! I’m not sure what to say to you, man. We both liked this record. I’m not sure why you think I deride music that isn’t brutal enough for me. Did I say that in my review? If so, please point it out – I’ll make a note to be careful not to say that anymore. Otherwise it’s a rather inflammatory claim about my person without much explicit substantiation. Perhaps it’s because I referenced my own impulse to dig into the record for its relative poppiness in the final paragraph, an impulse that I shot down myself in the same breath, going on to end the review on a note of praise. It’s poppy, it’s catchy, it’s radio-rock AND it’s metal. It’s all those things.

        • You can say what you want…it’s your review. My observations and initial rant were based on your constant references to completely dissimilar bands (that you obviously dislike or you wouldn’t refer to them as buttrock.) It’s my feeling that it was really out-of-place in this review. I’m not the only one who mentioned it…I’m just the only one to respond negatively.

          I don’t have a problem with you personally. “However, the good-time radio rock party inevitably comes with the price of homogenization.” I’m sorry but the things you say here are way overblown. I don’t hear “good time radio rock” as the chorus is no more “poppy” than Sabbath or Priest. I’m not even sure what you mean by homogenization in this context.

          • JFWilliams

            Homogenization, in this context, would refer to the act of standardizing, regularizing, familiarizing, etc. I’m sorry that you think I’m being overblown, or that you took my “radio rock party” comment too seriously! I am, however, glad you don’t have a problem with me personally. Am I still full of “metal-hip bullshit”, though? Hope not :-)

            Let’s agree to disagree though, yeah?

          • Sure.

  • Jose Barajas

    JFWilliams – Do you really think they’re intentionally “resigning” from a certain
    kind of metal they formed for themselves and their new album is artless?
    I guess if you favor the first couple of Mastodon cds… but I don’t
    know, I guess I’m one of the few metalheads who actually like a different Mastodon and ‘Once More.’ A lot
    of people I’ve talked to or articles I’ve read don’t really like the new Mastodon
    direction and that’s fine, I respect that. Is this really radio friendly
    rock music? I guess, but I wouldn’t really label them that. I mean if
    you listen to any popular rock radio station, you’ll hear Ozzy to Tool to probably Mastodon. But I don’t consider those bands ‘radio friendly’ rock bands. They are popular enough to be played on a
    rock station, but I don’t think their overall goals as bands were to be
    accessible for radio. They are just popular, make good tunes, and people
    want to hear that on the radio. Would you consider Pantera a pop rock radio band because they are played on the radio?

    It kind of bothers when people just call Mastodon a pop rock or
    radio band now. Maybe that’s Mastodon’s true intention, I don’t know, I
    haven’t heard them clearly say they want this in any interview. But I do
    believe people change, at least in terms of desires and what they want
    out of their jobs, their art, whatever. As a long time metalhead, I
    really don’t listen to tech death or extreme death or black metal bands
    anymore. As I get older, I don’t need it, it’s just too much to listen to blast beats for every song with
    lyrics about tearing out vaginas and all that. My musical sensibilities
    have changed and kind of mellowed out. I listen to more melodic forms of metal, such as the
    new Mastodon records or more atmospheric black metal bands. So for me,
    the new Mastodon direction fits what I want to listen to.

    I mean what would be worse: Mastodon continuing this new direction they want to do or Mastodon making the technical music they used to when they obviously don’t seem to be wanting to do that again or at least for now? I think fans would see right through a forced rehash of Remission or whatever