Mastodon drummer/lyricist Brann Dailor believes his band’s new record, Once More ‘Round the Sun, is an “awesome summertime fun-time record. It’s seasonal.” Because? “All the song titles are very death-oriented.” Hmmmm. Surely summer usually means light tunes like Weezer’s “Islands in the Sun,” “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago or maybe “Summertime Girls” by Y&T? Not in this case. “Not that it couldn’t be enjoyed in the winter,” he furthers. “But I remember records coming out in the summertime and it’s on at every party you go to–we had that mindset when we were putting it all together and deciding which songs were going to sit this one out.”
By we, he means singer/guitarist Brent Hinds, bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders and guitarist/vocalist Bill Kelliher, who have been opening minds and ears since forming in Atlanta 14 years ago. The ultra-creative quartet had “a discussion of maybe coming up with a winter EP to put out that would be more of a ‘snuggle up next to the fire,'” he explains. “A little quieter. And to announce that, so no one is expecting to get their head bashed in.” He describes this, their sixth studio album, as “super dark and super creepy and heavy and beautiful at the same time. It’s up-tempo, so for some reason I picture heshers in their cars, they pop the CD in, and from start to finish, they can blast it. Or at a party in the woods and drink beers and have fun as a 14-year-old human, not a care in the world.”
Mastodon, on the other hand, have many cares in their individual and collective world, and it’s clearly evident and explored in the grooves and heady lyrics of every record they’ve made, earning them Grammies, rave reviews from Rolling Stone, and a deserved status as likely the most creative and talented metal band currently working.
Blood Mountain (2006) and 2004’s Leviathan (loosely based on Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick) are concept albums, while 2009’s Crack the Skye paid homage to Dailor’s sister, Skye, who committed suicide at age 14. Once More ‘Round the Sun, too, deals with family tragedy. “It took a year to write the record, and the year is one of those years that you’d kind of like to put behind you,” explains Dailor. “The sideline story to that year is the album. For those few select hours in the day you get to forget about whatever’s going on, and sync it all into the music we’re writing.” To wit, “Aunt Lisa” is a song about Dailor’s own aunt, who passed away from Leukemia. Hinds wrote the music to Dailor’s lyrics, and it turned into “the craziest song on the record,” befitting Lisa’s joie de vivre. “Everybody knew her and all the stories, so the song is Brent’s personality, but it’s Aunt Lisa’s personality too. Some things are heavily masked and metaphored, some are thinly veiled.”
Dailor–raised on Biohazard, Overkill, Quicksand, thrash and “any death metal that was happening”- brings a guileless enthusiasm to Mastodon. Coupled with the band’s intellectual and introspective leanings, it’s no surprise Mastodon are as worshipped by NPR (who picked Leviathan as one of the Top 50 Albums of the Decade) as they are by headbanging fans. “I figured I’d just have a shit job and play in a bar band,” notes Dailor of his younger self. “Until things started to get more intense and more creative and I started working with people who had ideas. [Mastodon] always want to do more. I’m extremely lucky to have found them. We work as hard as possible to maintain the purity of the art, first and foremost. If that’s not hitting,” he concludes, “and it’s not good, I’ll be happy to bow out. We keep each other in check.”
Mastodon play Terminal 5 on May 15 with Gojira, 7:30 show.