Cold Dark Place by Mastodon

Release date: September 22, 2017
Label: Reprise Records

Cold Dark Place is the new EP from Atlanta metallers Mastodon. Three of the tracks are from the sessions of 2014 release Once More ‘Round the Sun and the other is a holdover from this year’s Emperor of Sand sessions. I’m pleased to say this release is quality from start to finish and any of these tracks could easily have fitted onto the albums they were recorded for. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that ‘Toe to Toes’ is one of their finest songs, an opinion probably not shared by an ever increasingly confused fan base, if one of the metal forums I read is anything to go by.

Opener ‘North Side Star’ is a languid ballad with beautiful pedal steel guitar adding a country element. Guitarist Brent Hinds is the main vocalist and delivers a melancholy melody in his ramshackle style, accompanied by a ‘ghost’ vocal that is a bit too high in the mix and is a tad distracting. The pace quickens when drummer Brann Dailor gets to sing and he expertly ups the percussive elements and groove. Bill Kelleher and Hinds trade riffs and solos as the song wanders off into bluesy/metallic territories.

 

On ‘Blue Walsh’ Brann’s smooth and heavily reverbed vocals are matched with a slippery groove blended with some shimmering guitar lines. It’s an easy and effortless melody only erupting into something more metallic now and then when Brent delivers his lines. Bassist Troy Sanders takes a turn and rips out a tune that sounds to these ears like children’s hymn ‘Jesus Loves You’. This section seems bolted onto a song that maybe didn’t need to venture into such stormy waters.

Stonewall killer track ‘Toe to Toes’ begins with some banjo-esque pluckin’ reminiscent of the intro to ‘Divinations’ before shifting into a rattling riff that just can’t sit still. It’s Mastodon’s most commercial track since the much maligned ‘Show Yourself’, resplendent with a handclapped beat that seems slightly out of time or behind the beat. Brent’s bridge is superb albeit at odds with Troy’s verse, again it seems as if the two sections have been shoehorned together, the transition is clunky but works after repeated listens when you know its coming. The track turns out to be one of Mastodon’s finest, in my opinion, mixing blistering solos with jackhammer beats and melodies to die for. As an offcut of Emperor of Sand, Brendan O’Brien’s uber-production outshines the other tracks which come from the Once More ‘Round the Sun sessions.

Final track ‘Cold Dark Place’ is another country ballad with Brent twisting out one of his trademark hazy melodies. Some have an issue with his singing, but I love his voice and how he recklessly (yet passionately) delivers his lines. Brann takes a rest from killing his kit and when he does join in the track he’s accompanied with soothing backing vocals. The guitars spider off tangentially while the pedal steel returns to add a wonderful country sheen. This is a million miles away from Leviathan or Remission and this doesn’t sit well with some fans, but it’s a sound I welcome and encourage.

Mastodon continue to sail in more mainstream waters engaging melody and a more palatable metallic sound compared to their earlier output. For some old school fans, the shift away from those records is an abomination which is unfortunate as Mastodon are on top of their game in terms of song writing and mixing metal and melody. I have already earmarked Emperor of Sand as one of my top 3 albums of the year and this EP is a welcome addition to their mighty fine recent output.

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