Cold Dark Place
22nd September 2017 – Reprise Records
01. North Side Star
02. Blue Walsh
03. Toe To Toes
04. Cold Dark Place
Mastodon have a strong tradition of dropping shorter releases around their established album release/touring/Game of Thrones schedule. It’s been a while since we’ve had a full EP rather than the odd single here or there; short-form releases have seen them experiment with some new sounds before but Cold Dark Place, a surprise offering, is a contender for quietest, most sombre collection yet.
Largely this EP sounds like some of the sadder, gentler material from The Hunter or Once More ‘Round The Sun, or an extended companion piece to the sombre “Jaguar God” from Emperor of Sand. Alternately, imagine the angry, ugly parts of Crack the Skye but smoothed-out and relaxed.
There are a lot of inflections and influences which have either been muted on previous releases or completely absent; some of the more left-field moments pop up in the spooky, folksy intro to “North Side Star“, the clap accentuation on the snare hits on “Toe to Toes“, and “Blue Walsh“, which sounds like Mastodon’s own version of chilled R&B. If this sounds messy, rest assured that Cold Dark Place is coherent; everything is focused through their established sound. There are some unexpected moments and the general focus is more maudlin than usual, and musically there are more than a few turn-on-a-dime moments (Troy’s sudden presence on “Blue Walsh” a notable example) that stop Cold Dark Place feeling too safe.
Mastodon have a history of using their records as catharsis and being public about the themes and influences. Here the focus seems more introspective; if “Cold Dark Place” wasn’t enough, there are some telling lines such as “he knew everything about me that I despise.” This feels a bit naked considering how fantastical their lyrics have been previously and it comes across as completely genuine rather than mawkish or clunky. As a release, this focus marks it out from other records; given the history and context, having lyrics less buried in metaphor lends them additional gravitas.
Brent Hinds has a commanding presence here, providing the leading vocals on “North Side Star” and “Cold Dark Place“, lead chorus vocals on “Toe to Toes“, and main harmonies on “Blue Walsh“. Having had a more muted presence on the last two records it’s great to see him in an environment which is best suited to his vocals and jangly guitar style, especially given how compelling “Jaguar God” was as a Hinds-heavy conclusion to Emperor of Sand. Focusing on him as a primary songwriter not only gives him a vessel for his quirks but showcases his own bizarre influences focused through a wider lens of Mastodon. As one of the most colourful personalities in metal, I’ve always wanted to hear him indulged more.
This does open the possibility of an EP focused on each of the members separately, which makes me excited for Brann Dailor’s grind/synthwave project. As a companion to their post-Crack The Skye output, this feels like a culmination of their poppier elements, which naturally has a rabid group of detractors. On their heads be it. Cold Dark Place cements Hinds’ reputation for producing maudlin, reflective music; the EP is quietly, compellingly sad. More Hinds, I say.