Following 2014’s somewhat mediocre ‘Once More Round The Sun’, Mastodon have got a lot to prove with ‘Emperor Of Sand’, and it does indeed both feel and sound like “an important” album even before pressing play. It is also one that needs to be consumed as a whole, so if you’re the kind of person who can leave a handful of Maltesers in the box for tomorrow, jog on pal. Neither as heavy as ‘Leviathan’ nor as noodly as ‘Round The Sun’, neither as direct as ‘The Hunter’ nor as obtuse as ‘Blood Mountain’, on the surface, ‘Emperor of Sand’ seems pre-determined for greatness, a one-stop shop for all the best bits of the bantha from Atlanta, and fans of literally everything they’ve done, from ‘Remission’ to ‘Sun’, will lap it up, but therein lays the problem. In casting their net so wide, the band fail to capitalise on their many strengths, and what could have been outstanding is instead solidly good. Considering it is so deeply rooted in personal tragedy, there is a clinical, calculated air to proceedings, the band seemingly unable to throw off the shackles of being Mastodon and just run with it. Thrash here, harmonise there, go a bit proggy in the middle. It constantly feels like they’re thinking it through too much and holding back, the kid on the merry-go-round who is spinning his little brother fast enough to scare him, but ready to stop in an instant, when all you want is for him to hoon it as fast as he can, ignorant of whether his brother is even still in the park. That said, the band are on top form technically, and Brann Dailor has now surely cemented his place as one of the greatest metal drummers in history, paraddidling everything in sight like an ADD acrobat with Tourette’s. Like their namesake, Mastodon albums should be huge, imposing, threatening beasts, monoliths of power and concept that defy nature, but ‘Emperor of Sand’ feels more like a pygmy mammoth, created in the labs of Jurassic Park as a pet for George Clooney. Impressive, but a bit too cuddly for its own good.