Mastodon: Cold Dark Place EP

Photo: Jimmy Hubbard (Warner Bros.)

This EP is essential listening for any Mastodon fans who've followed the band into the 2010's without an excess of griping about what the band used to be.


Cold Dark Place EP

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2017-09-22
UK Release Date: 2017-09-22

Earlier in 2017, Mastodon released Emperor of Sand. It was the first concept album they'd done since 2009's Crack the Skye, and like that album, it was also partially inspired by the death of a loved one. Regardless of how well the story for Emperor of Sand worked as a narrative or as a musical work (and opinions on that are definitely split), the band had a leftover song that ultimately didn't fit on the album. Turns out they also had three other extra tracks from 2014's Once More 'Round the Sun that didn't make the cut on that album, and together those four songs comprise the new EP Cold Dark Place.

The band insists that these tracks are not b-sides. Rather, they are orphans that didn't fit the mood of their respective albums. That is pretty apparent after listening to them. “Toe to Toes", the holdover from Emperor of the Sand, is certainly an outlier. It opens with a simple, major key folky guitar riff doubled on acoustic and clean electric guitars. This riff lasts a grand total of eight seconds before the full Mastodon roar kicks in. Except the swirling, speedy arpeggio remains in a major key, definitely an unusual choice for the band, even considering the expanded sonic palette of their second decade. Bassist Troy Sanders uses his bellow of a voice in a soaring, positive way instead of his usual sinister sneer. The song shifts to a less busy, more grooving feel in the chorus, when guitarist Brent Hinds takes over the vocals. The band even throws in a bit of vocal harmony at the end of the refrain, which carries over into the quick second verse. Eventually the song pushes into an uptempo, driving bridge that lets drummer Brann Dailor show off a bit. But it decelerates right back to the chorus afterward before ending on a brief guitar solo.

“Toe to Toes" has all the hallmarks of a great Mastodon single, except that its extensive use of major key makes it unusual among their discography. It might've fit among the various oddball experiments of 2011's The Hunter, but sonically it is not quite right for Emperor of Sand, even when compared to that album's big, catchy single “Show Yourself." It's a much more accomplished song than some of those tracks from The Hunter, though, demonstrating a much better synthesis of the band's traditional style with major key guitar riffs and vocal melodies.

The other three songs on Cold Dark Place each have things to recommend them and reasons they didn't work with Once More 'Round the Sun's set of metal barnburners. Usually those reasons have to do with tempo and mood. The most striking is closer “Cold Dark Place", which begins as a downtempo, acoustic dirge and largely sticks with that feeling through its six-minute running time, even when the rhythm section comes in. Hinds' tendency to sing through his nose perfectly fits the mournful self-pitying tone of the lyrics as he works through the end of a relationship. The song eventually grows into a loud, Opeth-style climax where the bass and rhythm guitar sit on a great, slow, heavy riff while the lead guitar solos away.

“North Side Star" and “Blue Walsh" aren't quite as effective as the EP's other two tracks, but they are songs that showcase different sides of the band. “North Side Star" is another slow one, cut through with acoustic guitar and keyboard work as the electric guitars strum easily and Dailor keeps the drums simple. Hinds again takes lead vocals while Dailor provides some solid harmonies throughout. At a little past the halfway point, the song jumps into a more energetic phase, as Dailor's drums get more complicated and the guitar and bass get a real groove going. And then it drifts back into the earlier feel, albeit with an extended guitar solo instead of vocals.

“Blue Walsh" has verse vocals from Dailor, who always gives the band its cleanest, most decipherable singing. Hinds sings lead on the refrain, which has a nice, catchy melody. Bu this is the song on the EP that most feels like an actual b-side. It's fine but not particularly memorable for its first two-thirds, where the most notable thing is that it is conspicuously missing Mastodon's usual roar (of guitars, drums, and vocals). The final third features the band launching into a high-speed coda where Sanders shows up to bellow and the roar is restored. And then the wall of sound gradually fades away into the original riff as the song's outro.

Cold Dark Place is essential listening for any Mastodon fans who have followed the band into the 2010's without an excess of griping. Folks who are still waiting for the band to go back and do another Leviathan or Blood Mountain, this maybe isn't for you. But “Toe to Toes" and “Cold Dark Place" are top-notch songs for the band and rival anything off of Emperor of Sand for best Mastodon tracks of 2017.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.