The past year has been a mammoth one for Mastodon. The Atlanta-formed heavy metal quartet released its seventh studio album Emperor of Sand on March 31. It quickly followed that release with the EP Cold Dark Place, which debuted last month.
Game of Thrones fans also might have spotted a few of the band members in brief cameo appearances. Drummer Brann Dailor was in the HBO series’ season premiere in July, and lead guitarist Brent Hinds and rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher were in the August finale. Mastodon members previously had cameos in Game of Thrones’ fifth season and contributed a song to the second installment of its free promotional mixtape series Catch the Throne.
Dailor, a founding member in the Grammy-nominated progressive metal outfit, spoke by phone with Oklahoma Gazette just before the first soundcheck on the first day of the band’s current North American tour, which stops Friday at Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern Ave.
This has been a hectic year for Dailor, who shares vocal duties with the band’s other three members, which also include bassist and keyboardist Troy Sanders. But a full schedule is nothing new for a member of Mastodon.
“It’s been busy for about 20 years,” Dailor said. “I’m always busy with Mastodon stuff. It never stops; it keeps going. We just like to keep our head down and keep charging forward.”
There is always something to get ahead of, something to plan, something to record. That is life in a major rock band, and while it might be too great a load for some, Dailor said the business helps keep him sharp.
“Honestly, if I’m sitting and doing nothing for too long, I really start to feel down on myself,” he said.
It was surprising for some to see Mastodon release another project in 2017 after putting out an album earlier this year. In its 17-year history, the band had never even released new studio albums in consecutive years, much less the six-month gap that separates Emperor of Sand and Cold Dark Place.
So, why the quick turnaround? Dailor said the decision was not necessarily his first instinct.
“I kind of wanted to wait, to be honest,” he said. “But I’m not the only person in the band.”
Like any other sort of relationship, one of the keys to maintaining a happy band dynamic is compromise. While Dailor would have preferred to let fans sit with Emperor for a while longer before unleashing new material, he said the exact release date did not make too big of a difference to him one way or the other. It is never a bad thing to have new songs out and available to the fans.
“I’d rather have them out than have them sitting on the shelf,” he said.
Part of the reason Mastodon was able to put out another release so quickly is that the songs on Cold Dark Place were leftover tracks from their previous two album recording cycles. While the resulting product is a stylistic mishmash, there is no sense that the band is pulling anything from out of its junk drawer. Instead, listeners get a short mix of thoroughly complete tracks with enough merit to stand on their own.
But fans should not expect any other collections of newly unearthed tracks anytime soon. Dailor said the Mastodon vault of unreleased songs is mostly empty.
“Everything we’ve ever sat down and written and seen to completion is pretty much out,” he said.
Three of the album’s four tracks were completed during the recording sessions for the band’s 2014 album Once More ’Round the Sun. The EP’s third track, “Toe to Toes,” was completed at the very end of the Emperor sessions.
Dailor said while the song turned out great, a hectic recording schedule meant they almost never got it completed.
“We weren’t sure it was even going to be finished at all,” he said. “It was the last day of recording, and we were like, ‘Hey, let’s put that thing together.’ And we put it together in the last minute.”
“Toe to Toes,” which includes an acoustic intro that sets the tone for its intricate arrangement, is a standout on Cold Dark Place. Dailor said the song’s last-minute success can be seen as a microcosm for the way the band operates. From the outside, it can appear erratic, but Mastodon’s musicians are always able to pull through in the end.
“I think of it as a cartoon train with thousands of pieces of luggage that are all kind of bobbling around and it looks like at any moment, it could all just explode or fall off the track and go crashing into a ravine somewhere,” Dailor said. “Luckily, the closer it gets to its destination, everything tightens up and makes it.”
It makes sense that a lot of Mastodon’s material is released as a unit following individual recording cycles because several of the band’s albums are highly thematic or conceptual. Emperor of Sand, for example, exists as an allegory for the fight against cancer. The album’s story arc follows a desert wanderer with a death sentence.
As tragic as it is to say, cancer is a topic to which many can relate. Dailor said Mastodon has been flooded with stories and comments from fans since Emperor’s release.
“People started coming out of the woodwork just saying how much this album means to them,” he said.
Inspiration for the album’s theme, like past Mastodon releases, is stemmed from personal struggle. Since releasing Once More ’Round the Sun in 2014, Dailor has seen his mother fight through chemotherapy while other band members have seen loved ones battle or die from the disease.
“They’ve made huge strides in just the last 10 years with all the immunotherapy and everything,” Dailor said. “It’s really incredible, but it’s still a horrible, horrible disease. Any fashion, any version of it you get, is super scary. Just to hear the words — it’s hard to talk about for anybody.”
Dailor stopped short of saying that making Emperor served as a distraction from the disease, but it did give Mastodon a positive outlet to focus its frustrations. No music or art, he said, can take away from the real pain of cancer. But it can provide hope and the knowledge that no one is alone in their struggle.
“Much like a lot of our personal tragedies in the band,” Dailor said, “we try to spin them and turn them into something beautiful.”
Mastodon w/ Russian Circles
8:20 p.m. Friday
Diamond Ballroom, 8001 S. Eastern Ave.
Print headline: Nip and tusk, Mastodon extends its big 2017 tour with a stop at Diamond Ballroom