Mastodon have one hell of a career to live up to. Speaking of pressure to meet fan expectations, there's arguably no metal act assumed to deliver brilliance on a regular basis like Mastodon. The Georgia act has never released a lackluster album, and although their latest effort, 'Once More 'Round the Sun,' is no exception, the record is guaranteed to polarize.

The Mastodon who made the raw, dirty and massively aggressive 'Remission' is nearly extinct in the present creative realm. Guitarist Bill Kelliher even told us in a recent interview, "I think us screaming and yelling is kind of a thing of the past."

Since Mastodon gave us 'Blood Mountain' in 2006, the four have placed an emphasis on clean singing while their tonality has become lighter and more accessible, though still experimental. This trend continues with 'Once More 'Round the Sun,' which like 'The Hunter,' isn't a concept record, although 'Once More' reflects on one year in the lives of all four Mastodon members.

Beginning with 'Tread Lightly' (inspired by 'Breaking Bad') on 'Once More 'Round the Sun,' Mastodon showcase a crisp guitar sound with somewhat conventional song structure, very much picking up from where 'The Hunter' left off. 'Tread Lightly' sets the stage for the album's first half, focusing on big choruses heavily driven by sing-along vocal parts. 'The Motherload' keeps that established feel going as drummer Brann Dailor and bassist Troy Sanders both delivering strong vocal parts throughout.

'High Road' gives us the album's first taste of a big riff, although it still falls on the tamer side of the scale when it comes to Mastodon's reign as modern kings of the riff. It should be stated that Mastodon's newest record is light on skull-crushing leads, so don't expect much more crunch moving forward. 'High Road' is catchy as hell, though, as is the album's title track, which hears guitarist Brent Hinds take lead vocals for some incredibly addictive verses.

'Chimes at Midnight' marks one of the full-length's highest points, painting a stunning introductory soundscape while chugging away from 'Hunter' territory back towards 'Blood Mountain.' For 'Blood Mountain' junkies, this may stick out as your personal favorite track from 'Once More 'Round the Sun.' From its lyrical content, adventurous riffing, exceptional musicianship and Troy Sanders' colossal vocal hooks, 'Chimes at Midnight' stands tall next to any Mastodon track ever released.

From 'Chimes' onward, Mastodon bring 'Once More 'Round the Sun' into a softer and more progressive setting, very similar to the chronological order of 'Blood Mountain,' 'Crack the Skye' and 'The Hunter.' For those looking to float in a sonic isolation tank, 'Asleep in the Deep' is your invitation. Tracks such as 'Aunt Lisa' and 'Halloween' will leave you hovering as well, while the former also offers some rare harsh vocals and a bizarre homage to the Ramones' 'Blitzkrieg Bop.'

'Once More 'Round the Sun' concludes with 'Diamond in the Witch House,' which will likely satisfy fans who lean towards the progressive side of Mastodon. 'Diamond in the Witch House' is the closest you'll get to Mastodon marathons like 'The Last Baron' or 'Hearts Alive' within 'Once More 'Round the Sun,' but although the track clocks in at under eight minutes, there's plenty of meat to sink your teeth (or tusks) into.

Overall, Mastodon's sixth full-length is a solid and imaginative record that contains some monumental high points and catchy hooks written for dozens of compulsive replays. However, if you weren't a fan of 'The Hunter,' you may not warm up completely to 'Once More 'Round the Sun.'

4 Stars

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