Mastodon hits Pittsburgh with a new record, a new emphasis on vocals and the monster riffs that made them famous | Music Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
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Mastodon hits Pittsburgh with a new record, a new emphasis on vocals and the monster riffs that made them famous 

The band upped the ante by making Emperor of Sand a concept album

Let’s say you’re only vaguely familiar with the Atlanta sludge-rockers known as Mastodon. You’re thinking lamb-chop sideburns, primal howls, forehead tattoos. And tusks: scary, hairy tusks.

In truth, you wouldn’t be far off, but you’d be selling the band way short. Sure, it’s got an array of metal guitar hooks, played loud and fast. But that’s not the group’s lone appeal. In the prog-rock vein, few of Mastodon’s songs stick with one melodic theme, or one tempo.

Just as striking, three of the four members of the band alternate as lead singer — sometimes within a single song — and each has his own distinctive voice. This approach assures an endless variety of sounds that, minute by minute, can be reminiscent of Alice in Chains, Dream Theater or Slayer.

Mastodon’s new release, Emperor of Sand, plays to this strength by making vocals the focal point for the first time in its 18-year history. Not only that, but the band upped the ante by making EoS a concept album, documenting the band’s recent family struggles with cancer and death. The concept was the brainchild of drummer Brann Dailor, also the band’s primary lyricist.

Dailor himself takes the microphone for many of the songs on the new album, no easy feat given his preference for squeezing in speedy drum fills at every possible opportunity. Dailor is easily the most melodic singer in the band, making EoS more accessible and less “metal,” in the view of some of the band’s most ardent fans. Percussion and space-age synthesizers have also found their way onto the new record. But this isn’t to say the band has gone soft. Monster riffs and complicated, odd-time detours still play a huge part in its songwriting, and bassist Troy Sanders continues to belt out growls at center stage. A warning, however: The new songs might actually tempt you to sing along.

Mastodon is known as an exceptionally tight live band, playing an energetic and ambitious brand of hard rock and metal. That shouldn’t change on this tour, although the new emphasis on Dailor’s singing might pose a technical challenge.

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