So many of Mastodon’s creative triumphs have been born out of personal tragedy and struggle. From living hand-to-mouth in the months before ‘Leviathan’ made them metal’s hottest properties to guitarist Bill Kelliher’s battle with addiction around 2011’s ‘The Hunter’, and the childhood grief that coloured ‘Crack The Skye’, they’re masters at weaving darkness into gold.
So it proves again on this, the Atlanta, Georgia titans’ haunting and monumentally complex seventh album. A labyrinth of eerie, psychedelic melodies, unexpected left turns and – of course – riffs the size of their home state, ‘Emperor Of Sand’ is shot through with visions of mortality; reportedly inspired by family members going through cancer. It’s both a devastating lament of a record and another wild, freewheeling ride through a world of weird; veering between the woozy pop glimmers of ‘Show Yourself’, the brooding, stoner-rock menace of ‘Steambreather’ and everything-including-the-kitchen-sink epics like the climactic ‘Jaguar God’.
Admittedly it feels more like an amalgamation of their finest moments than anything drastically different, but, unlike parts of 2014’s ’Once More ‘Round The Sun’, it’s awe-inspiring nonetheless.
Few bands out there twist metal into such bewildering, bewitching shapes, and – somehow – there’s little sign of their well running dry.