It’s been six months since metal stalwarts Mastodon gave us their latest full-length album, Emperor of Sand. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been using those six months well in terms of repeatedly jamming that record. And now here we are with a new four track EP. I wasn’t even given any time to miss them! Hot off the heels of the new full-length, I was curious what direction this EP would take. Would it be an eclectic collection of B-sides left on the cutting room floor? Or would it explore new territory with it’s own unique identity? The final result sits somewhere in between.
Cold Dark Place opens with “North Side Star,” a slow and somber dirge that sets the tone of the EP. The first half of the song is primarily acoustic with a haunting flute that rides in the backseat. It’s very 70s rock and shows a side of the band that hasn’t necessarily been explored in great detail before, but makes great sense. Brann Dailor takes over from Brent Hinds for the vocals in the second half of the song, which speeds up with fast lead picking and one hell of a groovy riff.
“Blue Walsh” continues with some fast picking and a cool, atmospheric, spacey-effect on Brann’s voice. Again, there’s something one might call retro about this track that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it sure is relaxing and pleasant. The song eventually progresses in a big way, with the most Mastodon-esque moment of the EP found in the bridge. Here, Troy Sanders gets to bellow over deep, frenetic riffs before crashing back down into calmer waters. It’s a fleeting moment, but one that is necessary and welcomed in an otherwise mediocre song.
Then comes “Toe to Toes.” This was the single that was released before the EP release, and I know it like the back of my hand. In my opinion, this is one of the best songs the band has ever written. A rolling lead guitar and clapping beat backs Troy as he delivers a stretching verse that is then interrupted by a killer transitional riff from the mighty Bill Keliher. This transition leads to an absolutely gorgeous chorus melody from Brent Hinds, whose vocal performance is so incredibly powerful throughout the entire song. “Toe to Toes” is essential Mastodon, regardless of what era you subscribe to as a fan, if not both.
If you’re short of breath after hearing one of the best songs of the year, never fear. Title track “Cold Dark Place” is a whiskey-soaked, country-esque ballad that trudges it’s way through 5 minutes of Brent Hinds singing about how he’s afraid he’ll die in his own skin before exploding into a closing guitar solo. Admittedly, it’s a rather underwhelming track. It’s a unique song for Mastodon, but not a unique song in and of itself.
All in all, this is a solid EP. If you’re looking for a metal banger, however, look elsewhere. Cold Dark Place makes good on it’s title with a chilling and mournful tone throughout most of its 21 minute runtime. While this keeps the EP neatly wrapped up in a single, cohesive concept, it doesn’t win any replayability awards. Aside from “Toe to Toes”, which overshadows the other three songs in a major way, the EP is just that; an EP. At the end of the day though, it’s new Mastodon when we weren’t expecting new Mastodon, and that’s awesome.
Cold Dark Place was released September 22nd, 2017 by Reprise Records and is available on CD through Warner Bros Records.