Mastodon's last record, The Hunter, was clearly a major attempt by the band to bring a more accessible sound and a move away from the progressive expanses of Crack the Skye and the crushing heaviness of Blood Mountain.
I'll confess that I really wanted to love The Hunter but ultimately it was just too uneven. There were moments of sheer brilliance - Black Tongue was foreboding and imperious (and insanely catchy), Curl of the Burl was both sludgy and bouncy (and insanely catchy), Blasteroid was incredibly energetic (also insanely catchy) and Spectrelight remains a huge personal favourite, marrying the viciousness of early Mastodon with an awesome hook. But every time the album started to get a roll on with a series of good songs, something a little mediocre or not-very-interesting would kill the momentum - like The Octopus Has No Friends which had an undeniably brilliant title and not much else.
In short, if Mastodon could produce an entire album that was as good as the really good stuff on The Hunter, it would be amazing.
Once More 'Round the Sun, unfortunately, is not that album. The approach and overall aesthetic is pretty similar to its predecessor, and so are the results.
Once again, there are moments of awesomeness. High Road takes a simple but effective approach with a super-chuggy, super-chunky main riff that has the same sort of inevitable momentum as, say, a charging rhinoceros. The Motherload is a really nicely-crafted, catchy gem of a track with a brilliantly ethereal bridge that recalls Crack the Skye and features great contributions from the entire band. And then there's Halloween, a rollicking up-tempo number which pulls countless tricks, delivers some brilliant treats (including a great solo and an absolute payoff of an outro riff) and wastes not a single one of its 279 seconds.
The problem, once again, is that this stuff is so good that it makes the filler really obvious. Asleep in the Deep sort of plods along without really offering a lot, Aunt Lisa has a minor identity crisis, and opener Tread Lightly comes across like a less menacing, and therefore less interesting, version of Black Tongue. These tracks all sounds a bit too... safe... and one of the hallmarks of Mastodon's best material has been an undeniable ability to push the boundaries of heaviness and prog.
So for me personally, Once More 'Round the Sun ends up as another enjoyable, but somewhat frustrating, Mastodon record. One that, over time, will most likely be culled down to a handful of tracks on my iPod.