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The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019, #20: Mastodon, Once More ‘Round the Sun

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MetalSucks recently polled nearly 180 prominent metal musicians and industry insiders to determine The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019! (You can read all about the voters and the methodology behind the poll here.) Over the next few weeks, we’ll be counting down the entire list, one entry per day.

The countdown continues today with Once More ‘Round the Sun (Reprise Records), the 2014 release by Mastodon!

One of the most interesting parts about the results of this list has been trying to discern why certain albums by genre titans like Mastodon beat out other ones by that same band. Once More ‘Round the Sun, the band’s 2014 entry, just eked out their 2011 release, The Hunter, while their most recent album, Emperor of Sand, didn’t come close. Those results don’t follow the typical metalhead pattern of “the older shit is the best shit” nor do they track a band’s gradual rise to success resulting in a ton of votes for their most recent effort.

Once More ‘Round the Sun certainly isn’t an album fans of Remission or Leviathan would point to as harking back to the good old days of Mastodon. The album is all but free of the mosh parts on which the band built their reputation, opting instead for mostly mid-paced numbers carried by lush guitar layering and melodic vocals. It also hasn’t got the expansive arrangements, ambitious concepts or progressive noodling of Blood Mountain or Crack the Skye, the albums that elevated Mastodon into metal household name status.

So: why Once More ‘Round the Sun?

One thing that certainly needs to be said is that there may be no good reason at all. Mastodon are a universally loved band, and it’s entirely possible that, without any mind-blowingly standout Mastodon album released in the past decade, our poll voters wanted to ensure the band had some representation on the list and simply entered the album whose name was the most memorable without giving it too much thought.

But I would like to believe there’s something our voters tapped into about Once More ‘Round the Sun that’s representative of how the album was received by the masses and how it’s viewed in hindsight.

And here’s the thing I realized about Once More ‘Round the Sun while revisiting it for this piece: of all of Mastodon’s post-Crack the Skye output, it’s got the fewest of what we might colloquially refer to as singles, those pop-flavored numbers with vocal hooks more likely to get stuck in your head than Brent Hinds’ swirling riffs or Brann Dailor’s frenetic drum fills. Outside of “The Motherload” and “High Road” (with a polite nod to “Ember City”), the album doesn’t have any singles that have demonstrated true staying power. “Asleep in the Deep” is another fantastic song, sure, but we like it because it’s spacey and dreamy, not because it’s got a hook.

Contrast that to tracks like “Curl of the Burl” and “Show Yourself,” the standout pop gems from the records chronologically flanking this one on either side, and Once More ‘Round the Sun comes into focus as an oddball album that doesn’t follow any pre-determined Mastodon formulas; it’s not the riffy/mosh Mastodon, nor the progged out Mastodon, nor the pop-flavored Mastodon. It just exists on its own little island in Mastodon lore, doing its own weird little thing that’s partially a combination of all of the above and partially none of it at all. When Once More ‘Round the Sun came out, the band’s fans were looking for something new and different from the band — most importantly a rejection of the pop-focused formula that defined their sound on The Hunter — and they got it.

The 25 Best Metal Albums of 2010 – 2019:

#25: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas, Mariner (2016)
#24: Triptykon, Eparistera Daimones (2010)
#23: Pig Destroyer, Book Burner (2012)
#22: Yob, Clearing the Path to Ascend (2014)
#21: The Black Dahlia Murder, Ritual (2011)

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