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Mastodon Settle Down With “Sultan’s Curse”


It’s getting hard to tell who’s less ambitious, Mastodon, or their fans. Last night Mastodon released the first single from their upcoming album Emperor Of Sand after teasing it in snippets. The song, titled “Sultan’s Curse” is good. No really, it’s good. It’s just not great.

Of course, after the last two Mastodon albums, good is good enough for me. The Hunter was an oversimplification of their sound that cut out nearly everything fun about their music, and Once More Round The Sun felt like a rote obligation from the title down. The band’s quality hasn’t exactly collapsed, both records still sounded identifiably like Mastodon and both had a handful of neat songs on them, but it’s clear that the band’s peak, that glorious run from Levithan through Crack The Skye, is over. Now Mastodon have settled into metal middle age, and unlike the previous record, they sound perfectly comfortable there.

That comfort is what I mean when I say that they’re less ambitious now. “Sultan’s Curse” doesn’t change what Mastodon do. Their three singers alternate parts, they rumble along in a shuffle powered by Brann Dailor typically terrific drumming. The song’s roughly a pop tune, just as concise as “Curl of the Burl” or “High Road” but it takes off in a new direction during the bridge. From there things start to go a bit cosmic. Little bits of harmonized guitars flutter in the margins. The structure loosens and the song moves naturally, comfortably, to a dramatic finish. This shift from the cyclical to the linear is a refreshing change of scenery, but it’s also a tried and true Mastodon tactic. Nearly every song on Blood Mountain did something similar, using a pop structure as a launching pad into a deranged flight of fancy. The path they take here isn’t as stunning as say, “Crystal Skull” but it leans into the band’s best impulses.

This is what I mean when I say that the band are less ambitious. They know what works, and they do what works. But back to the other half of the equation, have my standards dropped if I really, really like this song? That bridge is a prog rock confection, just hooky enough to justify its indulgences and urgent enough to earn its melody. Maybe I’m getting old too, but a band that once embodied everything I wanted from heavy metal putting out solid and catchy work after their heyday doesn’t seem like a problem.

Mastodon’s new album Emperor of Sand comes out March 31 via Reprise Records. Follow Mastodon on Facebook.

In April, Mastodon hit the road with Eagles of Death Metal & Russian Circles. Check out all dates HERE.

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