On their new album, prog-metal heroes Mastodon spin a tale of a man cursed with certain death as he hopelessly perseveres through an endless desert. While steeped in the hackneyed mysticism and brutal imagery seemingly mandatory of the genre, the story of this doomed wanderer turns out to be an unexpectedly emotional allegory for cancer.
Cancer has dealt a heavy blow to Mastodon in recent years, including the death of guitarist Bill Kelliher's mother. Kelliher and the band's other three members all inject their personal experiences with cancer and the passing of loved ones into Emperor of Sand. The result is an expertly produced thematic album that has more than enough chaos and burl to dispel any notion of a transition into mainstream hard rock—something Mastodon purists have been fearing ever since 2009's Crack the Skye.
Emperor of Sand does contain one of the band's most radio-friendly tracks to date ("Show Yourself"), but the album never veers far from Mastodon's signature amalgamation of diverse vocals, crushing riffs in dropped tunings, rapid, emotive solos and dissonant arpeggios. "Andromeda" might be the band's best track in years, and guitarist Brent Hinds' solo at the end of "Roots Remain" is one of the most emotional moments on any Mastodon album.
Mastodon plays the Wilma Fri., April 14, along with Eagles of Death Metal. Sold out.