Knitting Factory Presents
Mastodon, Eagles of Death Metal, Russian Circles
Every living creature must face the will and judgment of time.
Ancient Greeks personified time in the form of the titan Kronos, father of Zeus, and Egyptians celebrated Heh as an abstraction of endless years. Famously, William Shakespeare lamented humanity’s immutable fate as “time’s subjects” in Henry IV. GRAMMY® Award-nominated hard rock band Mastodon ponders the nature of time on their eighth full-length album, Emperor of Sand, on Reprise Bros. Records. Threading together the myth of a man sentenced to death in a majestically malevolent desert, the Atlanta, GA quartet—Troy Sanders (bass/vocals), Brent Hinds (guitar/vocals), Bill Kelliher (guitars) and Brann Dailor (drums/vocals), and conjure the grains of a musical and lyrical odyssey slipping quickly through a cosmic hourglass.
“Emperor of Sand is like the grim reaper,” admits Dailor. “Sand represents time. If you or anyone you know has ever received a terminal diagnosis, the first thought is about time. Invariably, you ask, ‘How much time is left?’”
Since forming back in 2000, Mastodon have certainly made the most of their time. Most recently, their 2014 seventh offering Once More ‘Round The Sun bowed at #6 on the Billboard Top 200, marking their highest chart entry to date and second consecutive Top 10 debut following 2011’s The Hunter. Casting a shadow over pop culture, they received “Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance” GRAMMY® Award nominations in 2007, 2014 and again in 2015. Their music blasted through the Academy® Award-winning comedy The Big Short, animated blockbuster Monsters University, and sci-fi western Jonah Hex starring Josh Brolin—for which the group composed the score. After contributing “White Walker” to HBO’s Catch The Throne, Vol.2 mixtape, Dailor, Hinds, and Kelliher appeared as “Wildlings” in a popular episode of Game of Thrones Season 5.
Not only did they earn the appreciation of Time, Rolling Stone, Stereogum, Billboard, and more, but they also turned many peers into fans, including Metallica, Pearl Jam, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, CeeLo Green, and Feist, to name a few. Performing everywhere from Coachella and Bonnaroo to Download and Sonisphere and nearly every major festival, they’ve headlined legendary venues such as Red Rocks and sold out shows around the globe. Emperor of Sand offers the next conceptual and instrumental evolution for these musicians.
“Since it regards enduring insurmountable odds, it’s a continuation of the Mastodon catalog,” explains Sanders. “That started in 2002 on Remission. Two years later, Leviathan was about hunting a metaphoric whale that could solve all of your problems, or it could kill you in the hunt. We took a journey up Blood Mountain and vaulted all of the hurdles that needed to be cleared for survival. Crack The Skye was its own deep and twisted concept. The Hunter was loosely based on dealing with death. Once More ‘Round the Sun was about being given an opportunity to do this one more time, one more trip, one more tour cycle, one more year, and one more birthday. Now, we’re reflecting on mortality. To that end, it ties into our entire discography. It’s 17 years in the making, but it’s also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives.”
A trying, turbulent, and tragic turn of events transpired as Dailor and Kelliher began writing music in the latter’s brand new basement studio. The guitarist received news of his mother’s brain cancer diagnosis during May 2016. He spent the next six months making regular trips to Rochester, NY before her untimely passing in September.
“When my mom became ill, it was really heavy,” Kelliher sighs. “She’s the person you know best. She’s the person who brought you into the world, nurtured you, and cared for you. No matter how old I was, my mom never let go of worrying about me, checking in on me, and trying to give me advice on life. It’s a sad and terrible thing when you have to watch your mother die. It’s something I think about every single day.”
Dailor recalls, “Writing was like a distraction to give Bill a release. There’s nothing you can do, but you can say, ‘Let’s go in the basement and see if there any riffs.’”
“One of the things I appreciate about my bandmates is we channel our current energy— although it may be dark—through the art we call Mastodon,” adds Sanders.
In order to capture the vision on tape, the guys enlisted producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Neil Young, Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc.) with whom they worked on 2009’s seminal Crack The Skye. For several weeks, the band recorded with O’Brien at The Quarry Recording Studio in Kennesaw, GA.
Emperor of Sand commences with the unpredictable swell of “Sultan’s Curse.” A storm of muscular guitar riffs and a thunderous bellow rages amidst a deluge of acidic percussion. Opening the storyline, our hallucinating protagonist, “believes he’s being bathed by the Sultan’s daughters, but he’s being carried to his assassination by the Sultan’s men,” as Dailor says.
In the end, Emperor of Sand siphons raw emotion through the framework of an immersive story and intricate musicianship, digging to the core of what defines Mastodon and all timeless rock ‘n’ roll.
“When people hear it, I want them to experience the spectrum of emotions that we put into it,” Dailor leaves off. “We’ve been through everything together. We still have the same four guys after 17 years. It’s been the wildest of rides. I love it, and I love those dudes.”
“If our songs can touch someone in a positive manner, that’s the magic of what music can do,” concludes Sanders. “I know for a fact that music is the universal language. I hope someone will find it touching. As far as the fan base we’ve built up over the years, I hope they’ll give it a listen and stay on this ride with us. It’s a marriage! At the end of the day, we’re four guys in a rock band. We navigate through difficult circumstances musically and in life as brothers. It’s the next chapter of our adventure.”
Eagles of Death Metal is an American rock band from Palm Desert, California, formed in 1998 by best friends Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme. Despite their band name, Eagles of Death Metal is not a death metal band. The story goes that a friend was introducing Josh Homme to the death metal genre. When he played a song by the Polish band Vader and made a claim that the song was within the death metal genre, Homme then referred to Vader as "The Eagles of Death Metal". After hearing this phrase, he wondered what a cross between the Eagles and a death metal band would sound like. With that, the band was born.
Chicago-based instrumental post-rock/metal trio Russian Circles create a complex clamor of sprawling guitars, propulsive drumming, and heavy basslines. They were founded in late 2004 by guitarist Mike Sullivan and bassist Colin DeKuiper, with drummer Dave Turncrantz joining soon afterwards. Prior to Russian Circles, Sullivan and DeKuiper were members of the eclectic instrumental act Dakota/Dakota, while Turncrantz produced an emo-punk ruckus with Riddle of Steel. In 2005, Russian Circles self-released their eponymous EP. Two limited-edition pressings sold out quickly. Enter marked their full-length debut for Flameshovel in spring 2006. A performance at the annual South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, and a brief U.S. tour with Minus the Bear and Chin Up Chin Up coincided with its release. DeKuiper parted ways with the band in 2007, and was replaced with Botch/These Arms Are Snakes bassist Brian Cook. Russian Circles went into the studio with producer Matt Bayles (formerly of Minus the Bear), and in 2008 they released Station, their first record on Suicide Squeeze. This was quickly followed by their third full-length, Geneva, which was released in October of 2009. In 2011, Russian Circles made the move to Sargent House Records, which had previously been releasing the vinyl versions of their records; the label released their fourth album, Empros. Memorial followed in 2013. The album featured a guest appearance from singer Chelsea Wolfe, and the two co-headlined a tour of the U.K. and Europe together. Three years later, Russian Circles released their sixth full-length (and third for Sargent House), Guidance. The following year saw the group issue their first concert LP, Live at Dunk! Festival 2016. ~ MacKenzie Wilson