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Album Review: Cold Dark Place EP

Cold Dark Place EP
Reprise Records

“What can I say that hasn’t been said before?” croons Brent Hinds on “Cold Dark Place,” the title and closing track of Mastodon’s newest EP.

It’s actually a pretty good question. See, the tricky thing about Mastodon releases isn’t deciding whether or not they’re good (which they usually are). The tricky thing is determining whether each improves on the one before it and in what ways. So where does Cold Dark Place sit amongst their discography?

Leviathan and Blood Mountain gave us tracks like “Naked Burn” and “Bladecatcher” — behemoths that shifted rapidly between intense polyrhythms and caustic sludge with ease — the three sections in Cold Dark Place opener “North Side Star” follow a straightforward progression from slow, cold, burn to country romp to slow burn again. On that note, two minutes of action in a six-minute song is a big change (and some would argue, a big step down) from anything we’ve heard Mastodon do before.

In contrast, “Toe to Toes” has a frankly beautiful introduction which is quickly replaced by a massive watersliding guitar line and some hand claps. It’s a very instrumentally active song; each track thus far in the EP has gotten consecutively more energetic and the Southern-styled intro, spacey shredding during the verses, and straight-up arena rock riffing make this one of the most enjoyable songs in the tracklist (it being the shortest may have something to do with that as well).

This EP highlights the ways in which Mastodon’s songwriting has changed from “writing a bunch of cool stuff and then putting it together” to “writing two or three cool things and then putting a stadium rock chorus in the middle.” There’s a focus on straightforward structure that just makes listening to five- and six-minute songs so much sloggier than it was when those five minutes were filled with multiple distinct and interesting passages. “Toe to Toes” is an example of how this can be done well, but Emperor of Sand’s “Steambreather,” The Hunter’s “Octopus Has No Friends,” and the entire Blood Mountain album are perfect examples of how they can be done even better.

Earlier releases were composed of songs that parsed through a fruit salad of flavours that worked well together while remaining individually impressive. Cold Dark Place provides us with a plate of different-coloured jello cubes. Is it still tasty? Of course, and there’s still a few new flavours that we haven’t had before (like the pedal steel soaring delicately around during the title track), but I know very few people who would take a jello cube with a pedal steel suspended inside it over a delicious bowl of pineapple, cantaloupe, and mango.

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