It was in the hazy days of Y2K that two transplants from Victor, N.Y. — drummer Brann Daillor and guitarist Bill Kelliher — met up with bassist Troy Sanders and singer/guitarist Brett Hinds at a High on Fire show in Atlanta. Together they'd form Mastodon, one of the most fêted acts to emerge from the post-millennial underground.
The band's mammoth sound quickly earned accolades from the press, who were quickly won over by its woolly blend of prog-metal and post-hardcore that gathers portentously like storm clouds over an expansive horizon.
But even as the Atlanta quartet prepares the June release of their sixth album, Once More Around the Sun, it finds itself continually looking back. Mastodon's current pre-release tour will revisit many long-slumbering tracks off its first two albums, 2002's Remission and 2004's Leviathan. The four bandmates have all entered their 40s, a natural moment for reflection on a period of growth that's had its moments of personal trauma.
"Hence the title, Once More Around the Sun," Sanders says. "Just reflecting on life, nothing is guaranteed. You're not always going to have your parents, your children or your job. You're not going to have your health forever. But it always takes a point where something is lost before people re-group and re-center.
"And that comes with time," adds the musician. "We didn't purposefully set out to reflect more on life, but that's always going to come, no matter who you are."
The quartet took its time making Once More, doing plenty of pre-production. They lived with the songs before setting them down and, in the end, had more than an hour and a half of material. They ended up cutting away 20 to 30 minutes of the slower, moodier stuff, which will reappear this winter on an EP. Instead, they're opting for the more chunky, streamlined rumble of 2011's The Hunter, which distilled their sound into dense, three- to five-minute tracks.
In April, the band released the album's first single, "High Road." It's a signature Mastodon track, with a swelling arty break like Emerson Lake & Palmer on steroids and a surprisingly supple melody.
While Sanders is excited for the world to hear the new Mastodon, he's also about to premiere the self-titled full-length debut of his side project Killer Be Killed. The May release will feature Greg Puciato (Dillinger Escape Plan), Max Cavalera (Soulfly, ex-Sepultura) and drummer Dave Elitch (ex-Mars Volta) mixing punk and metal in a more straightforward manner than their main bands.
"It was kind of forced simplicity," says Sanders of the mere 21 days they had to write and record the album. "There wasn't too much time to wrap our heads around things too intensely, and that was kind of the point. Being in Dillinger Escape Plan and Mastodon, it can be brutal to wrap your head around some of those time signatures, riffs and ideas."
Meanwhile, Sanders continues to be amazed that things have gone this far. "It's a dream world to me," he says. "I'm still blown away that there are people that pay money to see us play, and that's how we make our living."