Before putting on “Chimes At Midnight” to write about here, I was listening to Opeth’s forthcoming Pale Communion (which I wrote about yesterday) and before that, to In Flames forthcoming Siren Charms (which I probably won’t write about at all unless it appears in The Black Market as a cautionary example), and just yesterday I was having a conversation with Team Stereogum about Wolves In The Throne Room’s forthcoming Celestite (which I wrote about last week), and it all has me thinking about how hard it is to be a longstanding metal band with artistic or commercial ambitions. By growing substantially, you’re almost guaranteed to alienate your core fans. But here’s the real dilemma: Those fans aren’t necessarily wrong. In fact, they’re probably right. You might know some hardcore-populist contrarian who says Metallica’s “Black Album” is their best, but not even the most egregiously flame-baiting troll would make a case for Load or Re-Load … and those are destinations that came to pass while traveling the right-hand path on which Metallica set out with “Black Album.”
Anyway, I’m taking too long to make my point here, which is this: Mastodon’s last, 2011’s The Hunter, was not a bad album, and you could even say it was a necessary digression for Mastodon after their increasingly ambitious first four albums, but if the band were to continue steadfastly heading in that direction, they’d become at best inessential, and at worst, every bit as “safe” as Mastodon frontman Brent Hinds seemingly accused Dave Grohl of being last month. I liked “High Road,” the first single to emerge from Mastodon’s forthcoming Once More ‘Round The Sun, but I knew too that if the whole album sounded like that, it was going to fall to the bottom of the band’s discography almost immediately. I’m much more encouraged by the new second single, “Chimes At Midnight,” which is tonally darker, compositionally richer, and — put plainly — much heavier than “High Road” (or The Hunter) while not being an obvious retread of the band’s progressive earlier work. It’s an indication that Mastodon are still capable of marrying their ambitions with their more unique assets rather than merely their more accessible ones. Listen.
Once More ‘Round The Sun is out 6/24 via Reprise.