Who doesn’t love a good surprise? Atlanta sludge masters Mastodon surprised many of us when they announced that they would be releasing more new material in 2017. Even more surprising is that we would get that material just a little over a month after the announcement. Releasing on September 22nd through Warner Bros., Cold Dark Place is a four song EP that includes leftover songs from the Once More Round The Sun and Emperor of Sand recording sessions.
Opening the EP is the six-minute opus, “North Side Star.” Beginning as a ballad, we are treated to the rootsy vocal stylings of guitarist Brent Hinds singing over a subdued rhythm section. The structure of the song begins shifting after three minutes, and following a dramatic swell, the tempo picks up and then quickly pivots into the funkiest passage the band has ever recorded. A pair of guitar solos gives this track the trademark Mastodon sound, with one of them closing the song. After just a few listens it has become one of my favorite songs by a band that has no shortage of candidates. The progressive elements have been turned up, the guitar tone is top notch, and the pacing is a masterclass in songwriting. What a start!
“Blue Walsh” is up next, and its rollicking riff and fill-heavy drumming set the stage for drummer Brann Dailor’s lead vocals. This song sees the band leaning back toward their psychedelic rock influences. Brann’s smooth vocals are awash with atmosphere and give the verses an almost aquatic vibe. In contrast, Brent Hinds’ nasal rasp takes the front seat in the choruses, bringing the rough edges that we expect and want from these guys. Around two-thirds through the song, things get proggy again, and the roaring voice of bassist Troy Sanders is heard for the first time. While this one didn’t have as much impact on me throughout my many listens through, it’s a solid song that showcases the band’s riff writing and vocal dexterity.
If you pre-ordered Cold Dark Place you gained immediate access to the third song, “Toe to Toes.” I awoke incredibly early the day that the pre-orders went live, and managed to listen to this track about 10 times before 7 AM. It’s a real earworm. Similar to “Show Yourself” from Emperor of Sand, there’s an incredible energy to this song. Opening with lilting acoustic guitars, a double-time riff, and layered vocals, your head will be bopping in no time. With a few progressive movements, along with massive guitar tone and solos, this is a song that would take real effort to dislike.
Ok, we’ve finally made it to the “Cold Dark Place.” Sounding similar to “Jaguar God” from Emperor of Sand, the final song on the EP puts the spotlight on Brent Hinds while he openly bares his soul. Said to be written in the wake of a tumultuous breakup, the track focuses on emotion rather than technical prowess or fancy riffs. Easily the most somber song of all included, it’s another testament to the power of good songwriting. Sticking around for almost six minutes, “Cold Dark Place” feels isolated, desperate, and bleak. Closing out the song and the album is a bluesy guitar solo that escorts us back to the light.
So here we are at the end of another Mastodon release. I didn’t expect that we’d be back here this soon. Given that this EP is made of songs from the cutting room floor of two very different albums, there’s no strong concept that links them together. Instead what we have are four distinctly different tracks, that are also distinctly Mastodon. There’s precious little to critique on Cold Dark Place. Big riffs, strong songwriting, and some of their most progressive outings so far. Was there any doubt that this would be anything short of amazing? Go buy it already.
Notable Tracks: Literally all of them.
FFO: Every Time I Die, Neurosis, Baroness