SXSW Music Interview: Mastodon
Prog-metal giants go heavier yet
Heavy music, heavier subject matter, Emperor of Sand finds Mastodon trudging into the barren desert on the Georgians' seventh prog-metal odyssey, out March 31 on Reprise. The tale of a man sentenced to death in desolate, dry lands, it summons supernatural forces as his life expires. The unforgiving hourglass, the finality of death, and reckoning your true self all come into play.
The quartet's penchant for concept albums often begins with drummer/vocalist Brann Dailor, who wrote the lion's share of the new album's lyrics and reveals that he often conceives Mastodon's narratives in cinematic visions. The movie that sparked Emperor of Sand: David Lean's 1962 classic Lawrence of Arabia.
"I don't think a specific song came out of it, but it was the jump-off point for basing the record in the desert," he explains. "The first song we wrote and put together was 'Sultan's Curse.' The vibe of it conjured up the cinematography from Lawrence of Arabia – this vast wasteland of a desert."
Meanwhile, mortality pervades the heavily melodic LP – recorded by Crack the Skye producer Brendan O'Brien – something attributable to three band members dealing with illness in their close circles. In contrast to previous efforts relying on variant compositional combinations, Emperor was born from jams between Dailor and Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher, who've been playing together since their Nineties tenure in experimental heavies Today Is the Day.
"It just so happened that Bill was really needing to get some songs out," shares Dailor. "He had a stockpile of riffage and was dealing with his mom's cancer. It was not only a distraction, but Mastodon is also our job, so I went over [to his house] every day and we talked about the state of our moms' medical stuff and we'd commence to jamming in the basement and we'd start recording stuff. Eight months later, we had just about everything we needed for a new album."