‘Emperor of Sand’
11 songs, 51 minutes
Reprise Records (2017)

An old friend once joked that he expected the next Mastodon album to sound a lot like Nickelback.

The guy was taking a swipe at the decidedly un-metal direction this Atlanta-based group has taken on recent albums. And if you listen to “Show Yourself,” the second track on the new record, you can kind of see what he meant.

But despite some obvious pop overtures, “Emperor of Sand” really isn’t a bad album. The song “Steambreather” locks in a mean prog-rock groove that calls Rush to mind. “Roots Remain,” the following track, is just as solid.

This is Mastodon’s best offering since 2009’s “Crack the Skye.” As long as you don’t go into it expecting to hear songs in the vein of “March of the Fire Ants,” you should have no problem enjoying this one.