Whether by sludge or by prog, Mastodon spent much of the 2000’s securing its spot atop the Atlanta metal scene hierarchy. Manic drumwork, filthy riffage, and the growls of professional caveman Brent Hinds formed the early foundations, but those foundations have given way to rapid expansion. More and more frequently, the band has turned to pop to diversify its barn-burning aesthetic. Both “Curl of the Burl” from 2011’s The Hunter and “The Motherload” from 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun found the band firing on all hook-laden cylinders, and the band’s new single, “Show Yourself,” is no different in its approach. But it does vary in intensity and execution.

Relying on a serviceable mid-tempo beat and a milquetoast stop-start verse, the track feels stable and methodical in a way that even the most tightly-structured Mastodon songs haven’t before. The song’s main riff carries none of the frenetic, fiery spirit that characterized the band’s back catalog, but rather opts for a reliable, radio rock melody. Moreover, the guitar solo lacks the explosive energy that set the underground on fire so many years ago; listeners are presented a staid, predictable lead, whereas in the glory days of old they would have been backhanded across the face with something fierce.

“Show Yourself” feels oddly manufactured for a group that has always eschewed sounding this tame, and in its own peculiar way this creates an interesting dilemma for the band. Yes, this is the poppiest they’ve ever sounded, but it’s also taking them further into new avenues of their collective personality. It’s difficult to say how far down this rabbit hole the band is willing to go or whether this is ultimately a good hole to dig in the longterm. Still, I’m not ready to jump from Mastodon to “Mastodon’t.” Despite the mundane songwriting at work, I’m keeping faith that the group’s core essence is still there — sleeping, and hopefully ready to ignite.

“Show Yourself” is the second single from Emperor of Sand, out March 31.

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