Death is inevitable. The dark shadow lurks upon us mortals, seeking for the next soul to take under its wing, leaving the remaining living humans suffering from the loss of a loved one. Personally, I lost numerous friends and family members over the years from cancer, suicide, accidents, and malpractice. Therefore, when I heard about MASTODON’S new album Emperor of Sand (out now, Warner Bros. Records) was written based on friends they lost over the years through cancer and the like, I knew I had to review it.
The dark journey begins with the proggy sound in “Sultan’s Curse.” It introduces the album’s concept with lyrics, “Memories of loved ones are passing me by.” As morbid as Emperor of Sand is, there is a sliver of hope with the next “Show Yourself.” Many thought this song was weak when the single came out, however, if you think about the album’s concept, it gives the listener a sound of survival. The optimistic lyrics showcase this with, “Come alive. Sail into the void without your worries.” After listening to a glimmer of hope, “Precious Stones” comes in next with a heavier proggy tone expressing our tragic time-constraint reality. While we hear a bold sound with massive riffs, the lyrics tell us, “Don’t waste your time.”
“Steambreather” is another proggy tune, however, mixed with heavier interludes. The story progresses towards a reflection or ways to seek forgiveness as the chorus reiterates, “I wonder who I am. Reflections offer nothing. I wonder who where I stand. I’m afraid of myself.” Darkness expands with the silent introduction in “Roots Remain,” followed by a heavier progression with its depressing lyrics, “it all crumbles down,” and “death’s decay.” While we listen to this decaying life, the emotion of anger erupts in the next “Word to the Wise” with powerful heavy instrumental medleys. The character in this album is fighting for his or her life and this struggle is captured in the chaotic tune “Ancient Kingdom.”
Despair continues with “Clandestiny.” It moves with haunting and psychedelic parts, enhancing a dreamlike exploration of one’s consciousness between life and death. As the album nears a close, so does one’s lifespan in “Andromeda” with lyrics, “Time watching as the sand flows through glass.” It’s another proggy tune with dark and heavy arrangements, however, the ending is what draws you in even more with the truthful fact, “it never ends,” and “chronic illusions confusing conclusions foster the culture predict the deception.” The listener witnesses the character’s final breath in the next “Scorpion Breath.” The song features more technical arrangements including its electronic opening, followed by a drum and bass ensemble. It eventually explodes with a blistering aggression, as though the person is struggling to stay alive and fighting for his or her final breath.
The album concludes with death and the afterlife in “Jaguar God.” Time officially stopped, the monitor flatlined, and the person’s pain has been lifted. The song itself moves in different melodies, it starts off with a slow psychedelic trance as though the body is floating in the air and it moves towards a prog-like progression. Towards the end of the song you hear piano and acoustics arranged in a powerful way, as though one is finding acceptance in saying their final good-byes.
Troy Sanders (bass) once told me to listen to Emperor of Sand while you are in a really, REALLY good mood. And I can clearly see why, because this record depicts watching your loved ones or even yourself die. As depressing the subject is, it’s one flawless album that I cannot get enough of. Well done, MASTODON.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM