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Album: Emperor Of SandReleased: 2017
This is the opening track of Emperor of Sand, an album that tells an allegorical tale of a man handed a death sentence by a desert sultan. The storyline acts as a metaphor for cancer.
"It's about going through cancer, going through chemotherapy and all the things associated with that," drummer Brann Dailor explained to Rolling Stone. "I didn't want to be literal about it. But it's all in there. You can read between the lines."
Guitarist Bill Kelliher explained to ABC Radio
that as Mastodon was writing Emperor of Sand
, each band member was dealing with someone close to them suffering from illness. "Right when I started working on writing all my riffs and getting together with Brann [Dailor], we would get together and we would talk about our moms first," Kelliher said. "He would come over to my house, we'd have coffee, and his mom was in the hospital, my mom had cancer and was very very ill."
Bassist / vocalist Troy Sanders' wife was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. "We're reflecting on mortality," said Sanders. "To that end, the album ties into our entire discography. It's 17 years in the making, but it's also a direct reaction to the last two years. We tend to draw inspiration from very real things in our lives."
The album's concept was inspired by an artwork. Bill Kelleher explained to HMV.com
: "Brann saw this painting Alan Brown had done of this vast desert with an evil creature in it, I think he had the idea to make him the embodiment of cancer, this evil disease, and make the guy the emperor of the sand."
This is one of several Emperor of Sand
tracks that originated from a riff or idea that Bill Kelliher had bouncing around in his head for a long time. He told Artist Direct
"'Sultan's Curse' for instance, that was a song, it wasn't a finished song, but it's a song that's been around for five or six years. I had all those riffs and they just never made it anywhere, and it just starts to just get on my nerves and stress me out that I'm like, 'we gotta get this song. It has got to go somewhere,' but every song has its place and its time or whatever."
So how did the cancer metaphor come about? Kelliher explained:
"It was the elephant in the room so to speak that, we were like, "yeah, I don't want to f--king deal with cancer. I f--king hate cancer. I hate the fact that we are losing everyone to it." So we kind of just turned it around and were like… writing a concept record, we had all these different ideas, and we're just like, 'What are we talking about?'
I was playing 'Sultan's Curse' and Brann was like, 'That song just reminds of like pitches of vast desert and a lonely guy running through it,' a metaphor for someone who has got a death sentence and wants to get out and get away from it, you're running, you're running, you always have dreams where you're always just running, you're trying to get away from something, and that's what we were all feeling."
This won for Best Metal Performance at the Grammy Awards in 2018.