When Bill Kelliher tells you that Mastodon's forthcoming album is a "more straightforward summer party record," you feel the need to hit rewind a few times to make sure you heard it right.
On previous efforts, the thundering Atlanta prog-metal band has taken listeners on conceptual journeys into Melville's rough waters ("Leviathan"), up "Blood Mountain" and into wormholes ("Crack the Skye").
The sixth album follows 2011's "The Hunter" in steering away from the concept approach, opening the band up to writing about personal experience. "Once More 'Round the Sun," produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice in Chains) and coming June 24, is preceded by a single, "High Road," that is sludgy but with a harmony-heavy '80s-style chorus.
"That song is a pretty straightforward tune," guitarist Kelliher says. "Most all the songs are pretty straightforward, not quite as much as that. They're very verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge kind of rock 'n' roll songs. There's not a lot of crazy, intricate stuff going on. That doesn't mean the band is changing -- it's just the kind of mood we were in when we were writing it, I guess."
Singer-guitarist Brent Hines described parts of the record as being kind of "eerie and Radiohead-ish."
"A couple songs in there remind me of the vocals from Radiohead, for sure, with Brann [Dailor] singing really lightly. It's a total departure from anything I've written, that song in particular. A lot of new territories to explore and that's the cool thing about our band. We're not limited to sounding one way."
Despite it being more of a "summer party" record and not having the dark adventure story of previous albums, it is still thematically linked and certainly won't be light listening.
"It kind of is a concept, basically, taking a year in the life of Mastodon and our personal lives and issues, telling a story of different things that have happened to us in a very nondescript way," the guitarist says. " 'Once More 'Round The Sun' is another year in our lives and it was a rough year last year. All of us had personal things that happened that were life-changing and it's kind of a reflection on that. The average person looking at it might not get all that stuff, but if you really get in there deep you might be able to hear some healing words."
Mastodon returns to Stage AE on Friday, having played the chaotic Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival in Burgettstown on its last trip through, in 2013. Comparing the touring approaches, he says, "We like doing this a little better at the moment. It's a much cooler intimate setting and it's all our fans in front of us, not just people there to see Five Finger Death Punch -- even though a guy in the front row yesterday was wearing a Five Finger Death Punch shirt. This is cool because we get time to set up our stuff, do a soundcheck, sell our merchandise and cater to our fans. And we get to do a light show with lasers, and it's dark. It's not outside playing at 6 o'clock and there aren't thousands of people there who have been in the hot sun all day. It's a better environment for what we're trying to do. I think we're a better theater band than giant festival band."