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Truth be told, because I hated Crack the Skye such an unfathomably large amount, I couldn't give even the minutest of fucks about The Hunter. In fact, I didn't listen to it until I decided to do this series, and even then I didn't bother with it until I'd finished writing on the four previous albums, so as to not taint anything or potentially warp my old perspective of the band. This was going to be a new experience for me, this was an entirely new album by a band I once really liked that had since fallen into the toilet, and the only bit I'd heard about it was that it was apparently lighter and more radio friendly. That's all I knew, no other preconceived notions.
Frankly? It's okay. Certainly worlds better than fucking Crack the Skye, that's for sure.
At this point, Mastodon had proclaimed that they were tired of trying to be so heavy all the time (booo!) and instead were going to go in a direction that would allow them to have more fun with their music (yaaay!). I love fun music, I don't care how silly that makes me. It's why I listen to Blood Stain Child and The Decline and Gargoyle and Municipal Waste and Kvelertak and all kinds of other bands, because they're fun to listen to and I love that. Mastodon had dashes of fun here and there on songs like "Megalodon" and "The Wolf is Loose", but Crack the Skye was a tedious chore, and even if you liked the album, you certainly don't list "fun" as one of its qualities. That wasn't what they aimed for, so hearing that their new goal was to have some more fun with what they do for a living actually pumped me up quite a bit.
The final product here, with 2011's The Hunter, is actually pretty divisive, and yet at the same time pretty homogenous. This is a clear departure from the more matured (dull) and adventurous (meandering) direction they were taking with the previous album, so a large contingent of fans are going to have issues with how light this is compared to anything they'd done in the past ("Curl of the Burl", despite having a very catchy, bluesy main riff, catches a lot of shit in particular for this reason) right off the bat, but personally, I find the commercialism is overstated. I mean yeah, "Curl of the Burl" could be on the radio, but that's really about it. The rest of these tracks are all either too heavy or two weird for any substantial airplay, and they usually do pretty well for themselves depending on what they shoot for. There are some strange, trippy pieces like "Stargasm", "The Hunter", and "The Sparrow", and unsurprisingly those do pretty much nothing for me. I suppose they work for what they are, and they at least keep themselves for being shorter than your average drone track. Some tracks like to wander between the two styles on display, like "All the Heavy Lifting", but apart from the droning stoner chorus, that particular track is completely unmemorable. In fact, most of the album apart from the first three or four tracks until the last two or so are pretty unmemorable. Oh don't get me wrong, there are pieces that stand out, like the incredibly soothing "Creature Lives" (this song would have been terrible if attempted in a previous album. The laid back style and harmonized vocals work stunningly at this point in the band's career) or the blistering "Spectrelight", but most of The Hunter ends up being nary a blur after repeated listens.
Of the two styles, I find the heavier stuff is far more memorable. "Blasteroid" is a Mastodon classic as far as I'm concerned, with an incredibly slick main riff, just oozing with bluesy charm, and the seemingly lost Blood Mountain b-side in "Spectrelight", which starts off blazing and never nods off. And then there is the bonus track, "The Ruiner". The fact that something incredibly tedious like the title track or "Thickening" wound up making the final cut while this fist pumping, bone crunching stomper was left out is nothing short of a mystery to me. It carries the most memorable chorus on the album, for Greek's sake ("Heavy weeeiiighs thuuh crooow-ow-hooowwn"). It's impossible to resist singing along with. When Mastodon said they were going to go in a less intellectual and more fun direction, this is the kind of track I was imagining. Leviathan/Blood Mountain mashups with big hooks and singalong vocal lines. You see, this is the kind of Mastodon I miss. The band that used to put all of their energy into every song, every bar, every note. That energy, that oh-so-missed showboating percussion, it's all but absent apart from three tracks that exude it marvelously. "Blasteroid", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner" are by far the best tracks on display, and the only other one I can even put in that same echelon (despite being a completely different style) is "Creature Lives". Four tracks. Four tracks from a band whose first three albums never dipped below six or seven total classics amongst a bunch of other pretty good songs.
Mastodon really reined it in here, and that rarely works to a band's advantage, especially when they built their base popularity around how aggressive and energetic the once were. Taking a band like Sex Pistols and telling them to write something more akin to Snow Patrol is going to end up sucking, and the same thing happened when Mastodon decided to try to be like Genesis. Thankfully, the overindulgence is mostly gone on The Hunter, but the tripped out psychedelic parts still rear their heads occasionally, and they still managed to not really work. It's clear that this is what the band wants to do at this point, but they still never figured out how to do it well. They've always been at their best when releasing all that energy they've built up, and yet their latest album finds them doing their best to avoid doing just that. This isn't really as poppy or commercial as it's advertised, but it's still just a sort of diluted version of what the band delivered on their last two albums. The huge dead streak in the middle of the album is a huge mark against it, but the first couple tracks are pretty decent, and there are four fantastic ones that would be live staples if I had my way ("Blasteroid", "Creature Lives", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner"), so it's not a worthless album. They're just missing their best elements, which really drags down the idea they were going for.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
This album divides people, surely. Mastodon have been known for their long songs which are usually progressive/rock based, but also screeching vocals, insane drums and chugging riffs which has been their hallmark for over a decade. Although they've always been a somewhat experimental band, this is probably their most experimentalist record thus far. The Hunter has everything a metal fan would dream off; although I am not taking into consideration the purists who would undoubtedly prefer their debut, Remission, and gave up Mastodon once they began trying out other ideas. Mastodon seem to be keen on developing their sound organically, as opposed to becoming another Metallica who kind of sold their core fan base out almost completely.
First of all, let me completely disregard the myth that this album is not heavy. This is patently untrue, anyone who gives this a listen even once will notice there are some very Mastodon based elements here. "Black Tongue", "All The Heavy Lifting", "Stargasm", "Bedazzled Fingernails", "Spectrelight" and "Thickening" are all heavy songs, and you're quite unwilling to grant them even the slightest amount of room to experiment if you believe otherwise. If one believes Remission is Mastodon's only good record, then it is advised that you stay away from this album at all costs
Now the vocals are a little different, which will take anyone by surprise. Some of the aforementioned songs (amongst others), are very melodic and the singing always in tune. There is a fair amount of grunting in here, but both Troy and Hinds continue with the style they used on Crack The Skye, except here it's even better. "Stargasm", "Octopus Has No Friends", "Bedazzled Fingernails" and "All The Heavy Lifting" have some of the best singing I have ever heard on a heavy metal album. Some fans might find the singing far too melodic however, but even as a loyal death metal fan, this was a nice development in what has been a truly indefatigable career for Mastodon.
Now the production here is perfect, the bass is audible at all times, and on a few tracks Troy's bass playing really stands out, it isn't virtuosic, but extremely fitting with the music. The guitars lean more towards hard rock than heavy/thrash metal, although that classic Mastodon style remains ever more obvious on this record, even more than "Crack The Skye". There are a few decent solos, particularly on the title track, but unfortunately, there just aren't enough solos on this record - which is something you get used to listening to Mastodon. The drumming is also a lot more tuned down, and this is perhaps where Mastodon have really changed as a band - Dailor is extremely entertaining, but his drum lines are a lot more mellow and feel based rather than the insanity we've grown accustomed to.
Now for the negatives, and there are a couple. As previously mentioned, this is a difficult record for anyone to get into if they're not ready to listen to a lot of melodic singing thats not just grunting, and I can imagine Mastodon getting considerably more attention than ever before because of this fact. Also, none of the songs even come close to six minutes, which is a rare thing for a band like Mastodon, because one of the biggest reasons I liked about Mastodon was that they could write an 8 minute song that was never boring.
Also, a couple of tracks don't really sound like they belong on this record as a whole. "The Creature" for example, I felt doesn't truly serve a purpose in this album, and kind of threw me off track, while "Curl of The Burl" was a catchy rock song, it felt like it was purposefully put in there to get some radio play. If it wasn't for the uniquely definitive strengths this album possesses, I would have given a lower rating. In addition, the album is sometimes a little predictable. Songs here also structurally simpler, and follow the almost mundane progression of verse, chorus and then verse again. This is in sharp contrast to all things Mastodon. Things is not something that hinders the album, but it does make it far more accessible, so thats something to be aware off.
Finally, this is a thoroughly enjoyable record, that classic Mastodon sound is pervasive and there is plenty of diversity here. Some songs are unbelievably heavy like "Black Tongue" and "Spectrelight" while others are more musical such as the title track and "Stargasm". Its ultimately the kind of album I expected Mastodon to release, and presumably they'll proceed in this direction for the future. This is exactly the kind of stuff this band needs to be writing, a diversely experimental album which doesn't conform to any single stereotype. I strongly recommend this album for any real heavy metal fan.
This album, like much of Mastodon's catalogue, never sits completely well with me through repeated listens. I think it's because I never got the vocals when Troy puts his weird nasal touch to them. That being said, the production on this release is pretty masterful. The vocals are mixed so well that I can forget how grating they were at some moments on Crack the Skye, a release that I did not enjoy as much as some due to the somewhat overbearing song-lengths and weird prog behavior (but above all, the instruments just felt... Wrong. guitars too high-ended, same with the vocals, and drums seeming almost machinelike)... But that's not the album I'm reviewing here.
The odd thing about The Hunter is that it's very consistent. It is EXACTLY what I would expect Mastodon to sound like if they toned the intensity factor down a touch. I believe a reviewer called it "Mastodon's 'Black Album'", and I'm not going to argue that point. The songs are much more radio-length, the BPM appears to have been toned down considerably, and songs sound not quite as... Heavy, or spirited if you will. Going with the analogy here, Crack the Skye is a lot like And Justice for all in that I disliked the production on both. Obviously for different reasons, as Justice just sounded monotonous and bassless. Though both have the longest songs of their respective catalogues, for better or for worse.
Then there's the tracks. They're placed in such a way that if you're like me and don't skip tracks unless the album loses steam halfway through, you won't be hitting 'stop'. I was tempted on the three tracks "Dry Bone Valley", "Thickening", and "Creature Lives", however I did not. The first two didn't have much to offer... "Dry Bone Valley" sounds like a b-side to Skye with its and had sort of a repetitive vibe to it. "Thickening" gets my cringe shakes out, with somewhat lackluster and repetitive lyrics ("Wrapped up like a baby"), and the instrumentation is nothing to cry home about... But the solid production, catchy melody and interesting guitar solos near the end save both from going below a 6. "Creature Lives", on the other hand, would be the worst track on the album if not for the killer synth and really nice choir effects about halfway through. Aside from that, it just never gets much steam. The only other song I really felt like skipping was "Octopus has no Friends", which again has that 'we've heard it before on Skye, and we didn't like it much then either' feel, but it's short and placed between pretty solid (but not fantastic) tracks.
But enough about what I dislike, here's the real highlights of The Hunter. "Curl of the Burl", while definitely single-material, does what the band wanted with a lot of these songs, but fell back a bit time and again with a generic feel. The riffs are sludgy, the vocals very reminiscent of Ozzy in Troy's crooning, and I'd say it's the catchiest song on the album, frankly. A lot of times, when the band goes into 'spacey bridge mode', I get bored, but it's well-placed and doesn't overstay. "Blasteroid" and "Spectrelight", the third and third-last tracks respectively, show a more restrained yet agressive Mastodon, the former having excellent speed variation and some of the most intense screams I've heard from them, though I think it's mostly from layering. "Spectrelight" Has a nice hectic flow all the way through, and a touch of nice progressive drum syncopation raises its head here and there. "Bedazzled Fingernails" is by far, the best track on the album, I'd say. Good synth, AWESOME almost-robotic vocals in the chorus, giving a serious epic feeling to the whole thing... Rather than sounding like a b-side to the previous album... It almost seems to perfect the formula without breaking the ten-minute mark. Then comes "The Sparrow", a nearly-instrumental with a single line repeated inoffensively with some really nice variation in intensity behind it. It builds through 2/3rds of the song, and stays interestingly varied throughout, the melody in the vocals a treat.
As for the rest of the album, there's not much left to discuss. The songs stand inbetween the stinkers and the shiners, obviously, but you get a real 'take-it-or-leave-it' feel. Catchy and Mastodon enough to keep spinning, but not... Spectacular. Between this and Crack the Skye, there's a definite vibe of the band overdoing it a bit. It may sound like I love bashing The Hunter's predecessor, but it was a solid album as well. Sure, some songs just dragged more than I'd like. But here, with this output, the issue seems to be that there's just too many tracks. All the same, they remain (mostly) catchy and addictive. I'd recommend the album to fans of the melodic side of Mastodon, and less of the more abrasive qualities, though there is some heaviness to be found here and there.
Originally published at http://suite101.com
Mastodon has gone through a career evolution that seems to parallel that of Metallica or Queensryche to some extent. Starting out as a sludge metal band vaguely inspired by progressive rock, they have gradually embraced the prog side of things more with time and became slightly more accessible to the masses in the process. But following the release of the massive prog opus known as Crack The Skye, Mastodon has returned to a more basic template and seems to have created their Black Album of sorts. Fortunately the change manages to stay natural and never has the contrived feel that typically comes with such an overhaul.
Some listeners have been quick to compare this album to past efforts such as Remission and Leviathan, but the reality here is that it isn’t too far off from the various tropes that were developed on Crack the Skye. In fact, it seems to go through just about every sort of sound that the band has ever played with and is stripped down in a much different sense than before.
On one hand, the album is very reliant on melody. This can be seen as the album includes several ballads such as the title track and “The Sparrow” that are driven by spacy textures hinted at by past tracks such as “The Czar.” There is also a greater emphasis on vocal performance as songs such as the stoner rock-ish “Curl of the Burl” and “Creature Lives” are made particularly memorable by their sing-a-long leads and atmospheric chants. On the other hand, there is still a good deal of heaviness to be found as the guitars and drums get plenty of chances to shine. There are also a few moments where the vocals get a little harsher such as the screamed chorus on the two and a half minute long “Blasteroid” and the token Scott Kelly showoff on “Spectrelight.”
But like every album before this one, the band manages to sound great through it all and works each element into their sound without having them all feel out of place when stacked against one another. The guitars have that signature watery tone and tidal wave feel while the drums provide plenty of great fills. Unfortunately, the bass still feels rather minimal…
And whether they are aping Peter Gabriel or bringing about a raspier tone, the vocals work pretty well as each member utilizes their voice to great effect. As someone who used to be rather annoyed by the group’s lack of unified vocals, it was great to see them come together so nicely on Crack The Skye and it is quite satisfying to see them keep the momentum up on here.
But like every other successful change of direction, the songwriting is what really makes this album work. The group used to go along with the style before substance stereotype that persists in progressive rock, but this release and the previous one show the band making memorable songs while letting all of their quirks still be prominent. With that said, it can be hard to tell just what makes this album more accessible than before. There is the obvious answer of the songs having two-six minute long durations, but it feels like the previous album had more elaborate hooks than this one does. Many of this album’s choruses are quite simple in their composition and execution and could be construed as being rather bone-headed by some...
If anything, you could say this album is similar to Nevermore’s most recent effort in that it uses the shorter song lengths to make things feel more direct and less like the band is beating around the bush with overly extended segments. There are some songs such as “Creature Lives” that could’ve been made even better with an extra section tacked on but each song generally has all the right elements fall into the right places. And with everything working so well, it is a little hard to get specific tracks firmly established as album highlights. The opening “Black Tongue” is probably the strongest track of the lot thanks to its heavy but still infectious main riff though “Curl of the Burl” was a wise single choice due to its laid back feel and smooth vocal harmonies.
But one of the album’s bigger points of hype is the lyrical theme or lack thereof as this is the first Mastodon album since Remission to not feature a unified concept. Some fans may question this move but it isn’t one of particular concern as the band has always been more about their musical performance. And with there being such titles as “Octopus Has No Friends” and “Bedazzled Fingernails,” it’s safe to say that the band’s surreal themes are still kept intact…
Seeing as how Mastodon is one of those bands that appear to undergo drastic change with each release they put out, it is rather unfair to compare each album that they’ve put out with the ones before it. But at this point and in this reviewer’s opinion, the odds of the band ever topping Crack the Skye are doubtful at best. But that is not to say that The Hunter was made in an effort in top it in the first place. It may have several tropes that were conceived on that effort, but this release goes about using them in a much different way. If Crack the Skye didn’t convert you to the ways of Mastodon, then this one just might be the one to do the trick. It isn’t a masterpiece or the band’s sellout point, but when all is said and done, it’s a collection of some pretty damn good songs.
“Curl of the Burl”
After listening through this album, it's difficult to imagine that the same group made an album like Blood Mountain. There is a noticeable lack of heavy moments on the album, and the once interesting qualities Mastodon possessed are either not shown as much or taken completely out. This album doesn't sound very much like metal. Instead, it takes on a grungy rock type of sound. While I'm not against bands attempting to change their sound from album to album in the name of progressing their sound or exploring new musical frontiers, this album does a very poor job of doing either.
One might argue that this album does show Mastodon progressing their sound, but I don't find that to be the case here. If anything, this album shows Mastodon digressing in quality. The only tracks on here which show any real heaviness are "Blasteroid" and "Spectrelight." While heaviness certainly isn't the main point Mastodon is trying to make with their music, it's certainly a quality that made them fun to listen to. Not only does Mastodon remove one of the reasons that made them an enjoyable listen, but they don't even bring interesting material forth. The album is mainly made up of slow, ambient rock songs which don't provide a very fulfilling listen. Sure, some good guitar riffs occasionally make themselves known, but that doesn't happen much.
The other argument some might use in defense of this album is that Mastodon is exploring new musical frontiers. I can't say that argument isn't true since Mastodon's sound has changed considerably. However, what I can say is that the explorations they have made with this album aren't very fascinating. The album feels tired, and it shows.
The positive things about this album are that the vocal performances are solid, there are some good guitar solos to be heard here, and there are moments on this album that do remind the listener of the sound Mastodon once had. Sadly, despite these positive elements, the bad far outweighs the good. The songs are either too slow for their own good, mediocre, or just plain annoying. The track "Curl of the Burl" annoyed me very much. The song has a very pop-like tune to it and rubbed me the wrong way.
As a fan of Mastodon's previous work, this album was very disappointing. I don't recommend checking this album out unless you fit one or both of the following criteria:
1. You enjoy softer, slower music
2. You are a die-hard fan of Mastodon
If I wanted to be a dick, I could have simply given The Hunter a pass-fail grade on each song, based it on lasting enjoyability, calculated the mean, and given Mastodon somewhere around a 38% on what is its fifth and arguably most disappointing full-length to date. Although I stand by the above claim, both Mastodon and The Hunter deserve to be given more credit post-Crack The Skye taking us all by storm in 2009. It's always a bit easier to pinpoint a specific "transition" album in any band's discography after that band has released a number of albums. In retrospect, songs that may have once seemed like blemishes turn out to be the origins of brilliant and innovative ideas for future recordings. More likely than not, we are observing a case of that here. Skeptics were quick to assume that The Hunter may have only consisted of quickly thrown-together Crack The Skye b-sides dedicated to getting Mastodon more radio plays and commercial popularity. (I include myself in this category of misanthropes.) After listening more intently, I can almost guarantee that this is not the case; but this indestructible four-piece is certainly going to have to spend some time back at the ol' drawing board if they want this album to become as acceptable as Blood Mountain did as soon as Crack The Skye was released.
Remission and Crack The Skye serve as two massively solid bookends for the first decade of the band's career. Both of those albums represent the greatest works of a band that helped shape a giant portion of the last ten years in metal. The two albums also play off each other quite nicely: Where one is punishingly heavy, the other is a psychedelic warp zone exploring the deeper side of modern heavy metal. Where Remission's short, powerful songs are far from sounding boringly simplistic, the epics on Crack The Skye come off as anything but pretentious or self-indulgent. The reason why it's important to bring up Mastodon's first and last efforts of the previous decade (other than for convincing you that they are easily the band's two finest albums) is because The Hunter seems to be almost an exact combination of the two. Those familiar with all of the band's works will immediately know why that sounds so bizarre. Truth be told, The Hunter is a complete chore to listen to front to back, and not in the same way most would expect. This mother is so full of hooks, it wouldn't run out of them even if it were a pocketless, one-man fishing operation sailing from Portugal to South America on an inflatable rubber dinghy. The main problem isn't that Hinds' clean vocals ring constantly throughout the entire album, but that the majority of the actual choruses are too simplistic, too repetitive, and very fucking annoying... even to the extent that Clear Channel producers had hard-ons before they even heard the damn thing.
The reason why shorter tracks worked so well on Remission and Leviathan was because they were both super heavy and groovy as hell. "Curl of the Burl," "Blasteroid," "Octopus Has No Friends," "All The Heavy Lifting," and "Thickening" are neither, and will get old very fast. And those aren't the only songs on the album that suck. "The Hunter" would get eaten alive by "The Czar" any day of the week (as it feels like a failed attempt to recreate such a magnificent song), and "Creature Lives" contains over a minute of laughter, followed by vocals that seem like a mix between pop punk and white men singing in a church choir. The point is: If Mastodon is trying to condense the unforgettable trips that are "The Czar" and "The Last Baron" down into four minutes, the band is going to need more than a miracle. Crack The Skye was a true journey into what might be the absolute pinnacle of modern stoner rock. It contained a mere seven songs, yet was almost a full hour in length. The Hunter is only a few minutes longer and contains thirteen tracks, seven of which have already received failing grades. In theory, there isn't anything wrong with music that is easily accessible... that is until it gets caught in your head and you wake up in the middle of the night wanting to erase the memory of "Curl of the Burl" from your brain entirely. (We call this "Ohrwurm" in German.) Disagree? Tell me if you're still listening to the same shitty songs a year from now and I'll reconsider my statements. Thankfully, there are some pretty kickass songs on this record as well, so let's get to those... I promise it's positivity and optimism from here on out.
Although "Black Tongue" is an exciting start for the album, it's songs like "Stargasm" that really leave much to be discovered after the initial couple of listens. Thankfully, the refrain doesn't dull immediately the way it does with so many of the album's other songs. The same goes with "Dry Bone Valley," another track which could have replaced "Oblivion" or "Divinations" on Crack The Skye. The real surprise, however, comes with the The Hunter's closing tracks. Together, the three of them contain every aspect that helped make Mastodon a god among ants in the first place, whether it be the sheer power of "Spectrelight," the unique technicalities and memorable vocals of "Bedazzled Fingernails," or the solemn beauty of "The Sparrow." All are reasons to believe that Mastodon hasn't forgotten its roots and is merely delving into a realm of self-exploration, as opposed to releasing the precursor to the first Load of the 21st century. (Take note that The Hunter may be as important to the coming decade as The Black Album was for the 90s.) Hopeful fans should still be cautious, as Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Maroon 5, 50 Cent[ouch]) is solely credited for the production of this album.
In the past decade, the members of Mastodon set the standard in many different aspects of metal by pushing their creative boundaries to the fullest. Each of the first four full-lengths is a favorite album to a varying crowd of opinionated die-hards. Given the strength of the albums of the Naughties, The Hunter is nowhere near bad enough to completely derail the band's fan base, but it would probably be best if Mastodon remembers the fans who have supported them for the past 10+ years by not botching the set list of the next tour without prior warning. (I'm looking at you, Åkerfeldt.)
Finally, this album comes equipped with some fantastic visual work including the making of the wooden sculpture featured on the front cover and a music video that goes with each song. Although perks like this, working hand-in-hand with showy musicianship, might be enough to keep the munchkins entertained, music lovers are going to require a bit more quality songwriting to walk away from this album with a long-lasting, positive impression. Music alone should be powerful enough to take any listener for a ride, anything else should be strictly supplemental.
Originally written for MetalReview.com
This is certainly an odd record that Mastodon has put out here, even more so than others they have in the past. The traditional Mastodon sound is still present and they have by no means sold out, but there just seems to be something wrong. The album is still high quality, catchy, brutal, and emotionally evocative, but it is just not on the same caliber as their other works. To some degree the lack of a concept album is probably to blame here.
But I’m coming off way too negative here. The Hunter is still a delight the entire way through, with interesting eccentricities and head banging moments abounding with a swirl of psychedelic vocals layered on top. Drums are still pretty good, but far less than what I expect of the behemoth man behind the skins that is Brenn Dailor. This album also features an abundance of guitar leads, which may be some of the catchiest that Mastodon has written yet.
The guitars prove to be the most interesting instrument on the album and from a songwriting perspective most songs are based around riffs with vocals added on top to accentuate; only during the choruses of songs do vocals really take hold. More than any other Mastodon record, the focus of the riffing on this album is the traditional Mastodon sound blended with post-thrash core, progressive, and occasionally alternative metal riffing. The songs also seem to use different distortion and tuning on just about every song, leading to a very diverse listen through the album, with the thrashy Blasteroid to the dreamy Sparrow to the psychedelic intro of Thickening.
In much the same way that Crack the Skye directly injected melody, guitar leads provide the heart and soul of the cuts. Curl of the Burl has an odd lead riff that seems equally alternative and metal that carries a unique groove while the title track features the showiest solo that helps bring an intensely emotional piece to its climax (more gushing on that later). Bedazzled Fingernails and All the Heavy Lifting continue this trend of bisected metalternative.
The guitar playing also lends itself to progressive tendencies in a few spots, the most notable being Thickening. That song takes it slow, while soothing you with gentle yet complex melodies. Octopus Has No Friends (except for Brent) takes to the other end of the spectrum with that idea and features a flurry of notes making up the main riff that somehow form a cohesive melody. The guitars are definitely the strong point on the album.
No bass is audible (except for Creature Lives, which features very little else and was written by Dailor). I’ve tried very hard to find it in any other song, but I can’t. You’re killing me here. At least Troy Sanders gets more airtime in vocals.
The most important thing that separates The Hunter from any other Mastodon album is that is meant to be fun. Everything else has been a serious concept album with deep lyrics and engaging melodies that told a holistic story, but there is very little of that here. The band has been open about trying to write fun songs to play live, and on a few tracks they achieve that.
The problem here is that as a whole the album falls apart. The individual songs are good, but looking at the whole instead of the parts has usually played in their favor, but things just seem to get fuzzy. Without an over-arching story the lyrics descend into chaos and become really unintelligent and boring. As a result the songs as a whole start to fail when they cannot properly convey a message or idea, bringing about a lack of emotion. I don’t mean to say that a concept album is a surefire way to a good album, but the band lacks direction without one. The songs themselves are written well enough with licks, verses, and choruses well placed and thought out, but they seem to lack soul when listening to the album straight through instead of individually.
The only other part of the album that falls short (although this is a much more minor problem) is the drums. By now we have given up on a return to the rampant, chaotic and precisely technical drumming of Dailor, but even so the quality declines from Crack the Skye. There are virtually no fills, which could add a great deal more to upbeat tracks like Black Tongue and Blasteroid. He does mix things up with different percussion on Dry Bone Valley and the quirky Creature Lives, but none if it is that interesting. He will introduce new patterns and it isn’t repetitive, but this part plays the alternative card a bit more than I personally enjoy.
While most of the tracks are very catchy, some grab your attention much more than others. The Hunter is a beautiful ballad to Brent Hinds’ lost brother, with mournful and depressive vocals emitted amidst a somber tempo with a solo that is flashy, speedy, technical, and transcendent. Dry Bone Valley is my other favorite from the album, being the most upbeat and rhythmically tailored for neck snapping. The cymbal used during the chorus adds a jovial energy to the song while Troy Sanders knocks it out of the park with foreboding and frightened vocals.
This leads me to the other particularly strong part of this CD, the vocals. They are often wispy and barely there and almost always clean, adding a good deal to the alternative and progressive influence. Both Hinds and Sanders deliver hook after hook, especially on the title track, Stargasm, and Spectrelight. Other times they take a backseat and provide atmosphere more instrumentally than lyrically on cuts like All the Heavy Lifting and Bedazzled Fingernails. Also, on a side note, pay close attention to Creature Lives, which features a cool techno and sampling intro with the only bass line heard clear. The vocals also add a lot to the song and are the only to feature the drummer with the microphone.
In the modern music world, this album stands very tall with individual tracks all bringing something different to the table, but when you delve into the album as a whole it is significantly lacking and underwhelming for Mastodon’s poignant and engrossing lyrics. Still worth a listen, but without the seriousness of a concept like on Crack the Skye the band loses focus and become too focused on fun tracks. Which that being said are fun, but they (and the album as a whole) do not yield as much audio goodness in the long run. Crappy bonus DVD doesn’t help their cause either. Still worth a casual listen. Best tracks: Stargasm, The Hunter, Dry Bone Valley, and Spectrelight.
Mastodon has been compared to Metallica over and over again. In terms of career paths and trajectory, the similarities are many. Both had the raw debut album embraced by the underground. Their sophomore efforts were polished, gaining the attention of critics outside metal. Third and fourth releases pushed the envelope even further toward thematically-heavy, highly complex material. Metallica's fifth album signaled a dramatic change of direction toward a more accessible mainstream sound and Mastodon have stated they wanted material that was more "fun". Is The Hunter the first step toward selling out?
For now, I'm going to withhold judgment on that score. But I will say this: Mastodon have put together the catchiest metal record of the year. It seems the Georgians have been listening to some Torche since their last full-length (check out "Blasteroid") and put some serious pop sensibility into the songwriting. The sound is Leviathan/Blood Mountain era (leaning toward the former), so it's interesting to see that decidedly pop songs can be so complex. It's also interesting that even when the stated intent is to get away from complex, difficult-to-play music, it's still firmly progressive.
This is Mastodon at their most accessible, but it's still not "fun" in the way you might think of Van Halen or, for that matter, Katy Perry. It's still pretty dark (see the title track) and heavy (see "Spectrelight"). "Curl of the Burl", which is perhaps my favorite song of the year, illustrates the point perfectly. To deal with subjects such as murder and an unfair/uncaring universe, they use the provincial, whimsical title phrase.
"Curl" is just the tip of the iceberg. Every song on here is catchy, and they hint a bit more at some of their influences such as Pink Floyd ("The Sparrow") and Steve Miller Band ("Creature Lives").
The Verdict: I don't know where they go from here, and the similarities to Metallica's career arc are starting to scare me. On the other hand, the industry is different now, so I'm not sure there's much motivation for them to "sell out". For now, I'm just going to enjoy the hell out of The Hunter. It's an album of the year contender.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Expectations are a funny thing. When a new album comes out, quite often much of one's first experience with it is determined before they even slip the record into the player. Whether it is their favourite band and they have been waiting ages for it, or it is an album that is ridiculed and they have been alerted of how bad it apparently is; all of these factors come together to form our expectation of an album, which- obviously based on the quality of the music itself- will greatly sway our response, even after the album is done. Enter Mastodon, a band I have always generally respected, but did not find much to justify the hype with them, even on their progressive opus 'Crack The Skye'. With that in mind, I may not have had the greatest hopes for the new record, let alone the fact that everything I had heard about this in press releases tended to suggest that this was a simplified and even 'dumbed down' version of the band that had shown a lot of promise with their progressive direction. With that in mind, it may be merely my preconception that it was going to be a mediocre-at-best album, but I have found myself incredibly impressed by the reality of Mastodon's new album; 'The Hunter'. While I can definitely see where some of the descriptors were coming from concerning the new direction Mastodon has taken, the angle from which Mastodon sets off here sets the record straight for me. Not only has my feeling that this was going to be a mediocre album been more or less dispelled, but I would not hesitate in calling this the best album Mastodon have done to date.
Before the album was released, there was plenty of news that this was a simplified, 'accessible' version of Mastodon, and that they were turning their backs on the prog rock trends that the last two records had been rooted in, and going for a more straightforward rock sound. This label passes me very much the same way that the way similar-sounding The Mars Volta's album 'Octahedron' was described as their 'acoustic' record. It is certainly not a literal description, and there is much more going on here than what the artists might lead on. Without a doubt, 'The Hunter' is the most eclectic Mastodon album to date; with songs here ranging from vivid psychedelia, to spacey metal, sombre prog rock and a handful of stoner rock. The only thing on 'The Hunter' that has truly lived up to my expectation are the song lengths, which are kept within a comfortable limit. There are no more bombastic epics here like here were on 'Crack The Skye', but the album manages to stay consistently exciting and interesting, thanks in large part to the diversity of the tracks.
Even from the first listen, each of these songs has a different identity from one another; some songs may follow similar paths, but each has a set of ideas that are entirely their own. Mastodon seems to have made an effort here also not to put any like-sounding songs on one after the other. Take the differences between the second track 'Curl Of The Burl', and its successor 'Blasteroid'. The former is a bluesy piece of mid-tempo riff rock that relies on catchy melodies and straightforward structure, whereas 'Blasteroid' takes the listener on a trippy and exciting journey with all the psychedelic twitters entailed. 'Stargasm' continues this string of awesome song names with a much more melancholic sound, a very spacey piece that could have been plucked straight from 'Crack The Skye'. As far as an overlying change of style and pace goes, I would say that Mastodon have more of a psychedelic influence in their sound than ever, although the metal sound has been largely preserved. I find the psychedelic, and more atmosphere-fueled sections of 'The Hunter' to be among the most interesting, although the heavier parts here are a little more hit and miss.
Mastodon's sludgy riff work and distinctive tone are both here, but it works at its best when they are able to find the fine balance between hooks and heaviness. 'Curl Of The Burl' is an example of a song that tends to stray a little too far into hook territory, and probably best exemplifies why I feared 'The Hunter' would sound like. It may be memorable as a track, but there is no depth to it; and even before the first listen is done, I had the impression that there was now a big void in Mastodon's sound. The only two songs that really realize this 'accessible' rock sound are 'Curl', and 'Dry Bone Valley'. Neither gave me much of a rush, and they do feel like what's keeping me from calling 'The Hunter' a masterpiece, because some of the other material on the album makes me want to make that leap. Mastodon have virtually perfected their spacey sound here, best represented by the album's highlight 'Stargasm', and 'The Sparrow', a sombre track that closes the album in classic prog rock tradition; a trippy hymn that builds and lets the listener off on a perfect note. It is a perfect track for this album, because it gives me great motivation to experience the album all over again. I understand full well that many who are first listening to this album are already Mastodon fans, so taking for the fact that I- someone who never cared for them much in the past- am truly digging this album is a great sign for 'The Hunter'. It is not a full step above 'Crack The Skye' in every way, but as the overall musical experience goes, it looks like Mastodon has a new record to outdo with anything they may release in the future.
I can dig Mastodon's rationale for making an album like this; a bit tired of heavy themes, just wanting to have a good time, can't be arsed explaining to confused musical journalists the increasingly labryinthe concepts of their albums. The other alternative is that they just sold the fuck out, although I've always been of the opinion that if a band wants to do a catchy, rocky album then it's all good. Perhaps this is best described as a transition album, though; there's a lot about this that is rather awkward- it's not quite the good times bro-metal album that Mastodon were going for.
The huge amount of filler aside I think half the problem is that Mastodon are still a bit too, well, Mastodon-y. You want to be catchy and direct that's fine, that's beautiful. But it's hard to do it when the song structures are still all over the place and definitely not when a lot of the riffs are quite simply lacking in that direct punch that's required to pull this off. So many profoundly average songs here- from the title track to Bedazzled Fingernails it's a pretty horrible six song slog, from the profoundly uncatchy (Dry Bone Valley) to pretty awful pisstakes (Creature Lives). It doesn't help that the vocals, while generally competent, are rarely anything more than that, generally being these bright, poppy, vaguely Ozzy-esque vocals that while not annoying certainly aren't commanding attention with their all-too-inoffensive presence.
Fair call to Mastodon though, when they nail this sound they fucken nail it and it's a serious pleasure to listen to. The first half is all solid but clearly there's a few songs where stuff just clicks. "Curl of the Burl" is some seriously infectious, seriously groovy shit with a mean chorus riff and a short but excellent bridge- I wonder how much influence the producer had on shaping that song? Far catchier and more direct than anything Mastodon have ever done. Meanwhile, "Octopus has no friends" is a really good mix of the usual adventurous Mastodon guitar playing with the catchiest vocal lines of the album. These tracks combined with the titanic, surprisingly heartfelt Floyd + arena ballad ender "The Sparrow", (featuring a guitar solo with a tone I can only describe as "bitching") definitely suggest that with a bit more effort- and a similarly deft choice of producer- Mastodon could do something that would be black album-esque in it's mix of catchiness and heaviness.
...But they aren't there yet. Yeah, there's a few songs here that are fantastic, but you've gotta judge an album as a whole, right? And for every good song here there's some painfully uncatchy, forgettable filler- thus, the square 50% Regardless, I'm very much looking forward to the next Mastodon album; great things could well be forthcoming.
Mastodon are one of those bands that have achieved such a high level of visibility and success that they can do no wrong in the eyes of some, and do no right for the ears of others. To their enormous, rabid installed fan base, they are considered geniuses, the 'salvation of extreme music'. And frankly, were they to release an album of syncopated projectile vomiting, these folks might still revel in it. On the other hand, to their detractors, they're the prime suspect in the whole 'hipster' crowd, i.e. metal for people who don't like metal. Some of this is the typical rebellion against all things popular which has always been a staple of the underground, and some is just the xenophobic whining of emos in hesher clothing who seem terribly convinced of their own purity when they can be bothered to stop sniffing their own bodily fumes. Others really just don't like the music Mastodon writes. Hey, it happens.
Personally, I have enjoyed the band to this point. In particular their 2006 opus Blood Mountain, an album I found brilliant to the degree that it remains in regular rotation in my car stereo five years later. A hybrid of groove and progressive metal, hardcore and the unique leanings of acts like Voivod, F.U.C.T., D.B.C., Today is the Day wrapped up in the flesh of rustic folklore and prehistoric fascination? Sign me up. Their earlier, progressive sludge stuff like Leviathan and Remission was perhaps not so revelatory, but nonetheless good. As for Crack the Skye, I had a more mixed reaction. The album felt as if the band were attempting to capture a fragment of Blood Mountain's more progressive rock leanings and then extend it out into a full conceptual piece which was far less exhilarating, and I've only rarely summoned up the urge to experience it further.
Two years later, they've come back with The Hunter, their most user friendly and commercially accessible jaunt to date. Many have drawn a parallel between this and Metallica's 'dumbing down' on The Black Album, which is an apt comparison, if not entirely accurate. Things have changed, in that the band are writing obvious, layered melodic chorus vocals, and occasionally simpler guitar rhythms. Yet others haven't. One trait here that really ties this record into the past few is Brann Dailor's excellent drumming, which remains nearly as busy as Crack the Skye, if never so much that it outpaces or outdistances the musical plot. In general, the musicianship is still cracking throughout, the varied tempos functional in keeping the ears glued through both the sparse bouts of manic intensity and the glistening vocal candy. And this is one area, perhaps, in which The Hunter deviates from past patterns.
While something like Blood Mountain was as a general rule heavy, with only a few moments of bliss ("Pendulous Skin", or the wondrous climb of melodies in "Sleeping Giant"), this is a much more 'even' balance of the two poles. You've got dreamy, mesmeric pieces here like finale "The Sparrow" over which the vocals sooth and soar like a lost Pink Floyd ballad, or "Creature Lives", my least favorite track here which uses a lot of the open air choral vocals you might hear in Fleet Foxes, The Arcade Fire or the moodier Beach Boys tunes. This experimentation isn't by default bad, I just found the guitars and the overall structure of the song pretty bland, predictable and empty. Then there's the song which is basically a straight up stoner rock piece, "Curl of the Burl", redolent of Corrosion of Conformity or Monster Magnet but with a lame chorus: 'It's just the curl of the burl/that's just the way of the world/it's just the curl of the burl'. Really? Or how about the unfortunate "Blasteroid", which sounds like a Southern inflected Foo Fighters until it grows some balls for the spastic dissonant snarling metalcore of the bridge.
But all is far from lost, and there are a handful of tracks here which I'd consider genuinely appealing. Opener "Black Tongue" has some solid, escalating riffs and somewhat of a black, space rock atmosphere to it, and reminds me quite a lot of Blood Mountain. "Spectrelight" stands out to me for how the angst-ridden vocals slice straight through the thick, muddy grooves of the guitar. And "Bedazzled Fingernails" is a compelling pastiche of clean, jangling and swerving guitars with more of the psychedelic, layered vocals that stand to memory long after the song fades. I would be remiss to not also mention "Octopus Has No Friends" or "All the Heavy Lifting", which are both fairly interesting forays that bridge together the heavy, melodic rock influence with a lot of adventurous guitars courtesy of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher.
A band like Mastodon can afford to make their album sound crystalline and huge in accordance with pop and mainstream rock standards, and so it's only natural that The Hunter is prim and proper enough to allow all its instruments to breathe. There is no question that the quartet has put an enormous amount of effort into the arrangements, in particular the vocals, which all the band members contribute towards. They're still technically inclined and 'progressive' without ever coming off showy or overly indulgent, but regardless this is a safer album geared partially towards a wider rock audience, and thus some of the tracks are vapid and unmemorable to the point that they feel as if they soil the rest. 5-6 of these would have made for one hell of an EP, but I could do without the padding, and I found the lyrics here far less poignant and stunning in their imagery, loaded with cliches and nonsense that I simply don't expect from this band.
In the end, while I 'like' The Hunter, and it's not nearly the disaster it might have been or that some might claim, it does not hold up to their earlier full-lengths. Never before have I felt the urge to actually skip songs on a Mastodon release (I don't visit Crack the Skye often, but when I do, I plunge straight through it), but it's all too easy to cut something like "Creature Lives", "Stargasm" or "Dry Bone Valley" out of the play list altogether. At the very least, I hope they've shaken some of the chinks out of their armor with this album and will turn the ignition key for the future. And write some fucking LYRICS next time.
Mastodon have been, currently are, and (most likely) always will be a bit of an enigma to me. They truly are a band that write their own rules and then follow them as much as possible, yet still deviate in some cases. The band manages to be very mainstream and accesible while maintaining a loyal underground fanbase. Few bands have reached a level of stardom through merely playing the exact kind of music they want to play without “selling out”. For this reason I would like to refer to their take on heavy metal as “Mastodon Metal” because “prog” doesn’t quite describe it (and Mastodon metal is way cooler sounding). You see, Mastodon metal doesn’t really play by rules. When you are in Mastodon and you make Mastodon metal, you have zero limitations, and as long as you get the approval of the rest of Mastodon, then, whatever your contribution to the sound is, becomes Mastodon metal- thus, why none of their albums sound the same.
Many people may disagree with that statement, saying that it’s obvious that Mastodon have “sold out”, which is apparent through their increase in non screamed vocals and trading of heavy sludge riffs for melodies over the years and albums. There are two reasons why I say “balderdash” to this claim of swapping art for money. The first is that Brent Hinds has a face tattoo, which I believe, that if there is a handbook on how to not “sell out”, then face tattoos would be in the first chapter. The second reason is the the same reason why some might say that Mastodon has sold out- The Hunter.
“The Hunter” is one of the most interesting albums I have come across yet this year. There is a lot of challenging content to be had with this record, almost all of which is very rewarding once you have digested it and then revisited. Definitely not an album to judge off of the first, second or even third listen, it is a very complex album that requires effort to fully appreciate, but once you get below the surface and the music becomes a familiar territory, things will begin to make sense in a crazy Mastodon metal sort of way.
Spiralling towers of color, wide open psychadelic fields of mania and abnormality, fluid melodies reciting bizarre myths– these are all things that take place as “The Hunter” washes over you. Some of these tracks are so weird that I am not really sure I have heard anything like them, especially in metal, which is the strongest aspect of the album. The tracks that really explore the abilities of the band members and draw out pure hardened gems of focused creativity from them are where this album shines and the reason why this review ends in as high of a score as it does. The tracks that do not indulge in this quite as much are the albums only folly.
I will get the bad stuff out of the way so I can gush a bit about the traits I like. The main problems actually start at the beginning of the album and taper off slowly with each track. There isn’t really a bad song on this album but there are a few skippable ones when compared to the standout cuts. “Black Tongue” and “Curl of the Burl” are both Mastodon on autopilot, the latter being far more guilty of this than the former. With as talented as these guys are, I am pretty sure they could write these songs in their sleep. Is it pure coincidence that these are both singles and radio friendly songs? Since I was not there when Mastodon wrote and recorded them, I cannot say, but I would guess they are a direct result of label pressure. These are still decent songs, mind you, they just pale in comparison to the epic ballads and anthems that come later. Worry not because with each passing track, things get a little better.
Which brings me to the far superior songs. After the rockabilly inspired “Blasteroids” finishes, “Stargasm” begins, which was the first track that made me sit up and pay attention. Full of ambience and spacey melodies, yet far from a “slow song”, this is a very cool tune with a very subtle but effective riff that makes the song. The next few songs are all solid and if I am going to wrap this review up anytime soon, I will unfortunately have to skip over them. “Dry Bone Valley” is the first song in the true “meat” of the album in my opinion. Brann Dailor, one of the best drummers in modern metal, takes the lead vocals on this song and shows that he is truly multitalented. After “Thickening” (another favorite of mine), what I believe is the best song on the whole album plays– “Creature Lives” if I am not mistaken was completely written by Dailor and he provides almost exclusive vocals for it. This song made me do a triple take, and at first I could not decide whether I actually liked it or not, but after many many replays I believe this could be Mastodons best song.
Your first listen of “The Hunter” may have you saying, “what the fuck is this?”, or you may be somewhat underwhelmed and say, “this can’t be it”, so my advice is as follows: through whatever means necessary, acquire this album even if it’s not a perfect 10, then, listen to it many times, take breaks if you have to, but make sure you come back. You will be missing out on some very inventive and unique metal if you disregard Mastodon’s latest offering at first listen.
Originally written for: http://leatherandtrash.wordpress.com/album-reviews/mastodon-the-hunter-2011/
Well here it is, the new Mastodon album, the much-anticipated follow up to 200whatever’s Crack the Skye. What was expected to be an air themed album, the conclusion of their elemental quintology, is, as confirmed by Brent Hinds, actually flying write in the face of that concept. Thematics aside, does the quality of the album alone stand up? No, it sucks dick!
The opener, Black Tongue, actually instills one with a certain degree of hope for the rest of the songs. A heavy, memorable opening riff harkens back to Crack the Skye’s Oblivion. The difference is that this song, while competent, doesn’t develop into anything terribly astonishing. Many may be excited at the stripped down compositions, expecting something in similar vein to Remission. Well, you’ll also be disappointed, The Hunter’s song writing is miles away from early Mastodon, more in line with Fuse-friendly mallgoth metal.
A slew of stupidly titled songs follow the opener: Curl of the Burl, Blasteroid, Octopus Has No Friends, Bedazzled Fingernails, and perhaps the most offensively stupid, Stargasm, a delightful ode to sex in space. Musically there’s plenty to be desired. Every competent riff is ruined by the vocals. Someone tell Brent Hinds that he really can’t carry this level of singing. The band imitates everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Umphrey’s Magee to Coheed and Cambria to Avenged Sevenfold to Tool and god knows what else. Producer Mike Elizondo really shows his chops here. Not that I’d expect much from the co-producer of In Da Club. At the end of the day, Mastodon is just lost without a central theme, and Elizondo’s influence doesn’t really help matters.
Honestly there’s just not really much else to say. This album is just not very good. Missed opportunity coupled with many horrible new directions. Even regular guest Scott Kelley can’t do much to save his feature, Spectrelight. Seriously, Mastodon put out a real crock of shit. Why would they do that?
Mastodon is a band, that I didn't really get into until their last Full-length, "Crack The Skye". I found that I didn't really like their early stuff until much later. To be honest, they are a band that grows on you. I also found that these guys can really play some strange music. That is no different on "The Hunter". This record hits notes that are like Blue Oyster Cult, Sabbath and even stuff that sounds like their own style of metal. The new album couldn’t have come sooner, because “Crack The Skye” is starting to get worn out in my brain…
The new album starts out with the first single, Black Tongue, which to be honest is probably the weakest song on the album. It is a great song, so that’s just showing how good the album is. The instrumental parts of this album were so good. All of the members feed off each other flawlessly. I was impressed with how intense the music could get, then change pace next song and play very soothing and mellow melodies that make your soul tremble.
The thing about Mastodon that has always astounded me is that all of the members know how to sing and do so in almost every song. Many songs (i.e. Oblivion, “Crack the Skye”) have all of the members harmonizing. It really is a great sound. This record is no different. There were a few songs with one singer at a time and many with multiple people harmonizing. I have always been a fan of Brent Hinds’ voice. He sounds like Ozzy without that whine that can often get on your nerves. Curl The Burl is the song that really stands out when you want to listen to his voice. It’s a really well done song, much like the others on the album.
As I explained earlier, there are great instrumentals on this album and they flow well. The guitars, bass and drums are all heard very well and all feed off each other amazingly. I really dig how the bass is so loud in half the songs, that you feel it in your stomach. The drums get so fun (coming from a drummer) that I often find myself drumming along. As for the guitars – holy shit. All I have to say is that they really show the experimental side of this band. They use not only some really weird chords, but also some really weird structures in their music. It all flows, though, which makes it one of the best sounds out there. Experimental music that doesn’t sound like pretentious hipster bullshit or annoying noise music? Yes please.
To be honest, fans of “Remission” won’t like this. This album is not heavy. It has some heavier songs, but compared to “Remission”, this is like vanilla sorbet. Fans of “Leviathan” may or may not like it, but fans of “Blood Mountain” and “Crack the Skye” will really enjoy this record. It’s really a different listening experience, in a good way. I think this may go down in the Mastodon hall of fame.
This is certainly an interesting change in direction. Mastodon seemed quite happy to be moving further into pure prog territory, leaving their sludgy roots behind almost entirely with Crack the Skye. And yet here we have this, something completely different. A curveball if you will. This is a step backwards, perhaps, from its proggy predecessor, but don’t take that to imply inferior quality – The Hunter is just as good, if not better than the much acclaimed Skye.
There’s a wide variety of songs here, which, while not always a positive point, certainly acts in the band’s favour here. There are the fast paced songs, the slow, crushing ones, and the languid, drawn-out soundscapes. It manages to, rather than sound mix and match and poorly defined, create an intriguing contrast. Look, for instance, at ‘Creature Lives’ and its follower ‘Spectrelight’ (which sees Neurosis’ Scott Kelly guesting) – the first a slow, relatively soft sounding song that builds up to a climax, the next being a fast assault on the ears.
This glorious mixture is most apparent on the best songs of the album. ‘Curl of the Burl’ is, at heart, a down and dirty rock and roll song with a metal overlay. It’s the sort of song that makes you want to bang your head, and is a siren song throughout the whole album. It genuinely seems addictive, with a riff and chorus focus that is surprisingly common on The Hunter and which, more importantly, works. That’s not to say it is overshadowing in any way – excellent songs like ‘Dry Bone Valley’, ‘Black Tongue’, ‘All the Heavy Lifting’, ‘Thickening’ and the title track keep things going steadily, despite the changes in pace. Indeed, all the songs on here are obviously well made and all have their own unique flair and charm, which flirts with the flairs and charms of the other songs on the album. Once again, the playing is all top-form, with a relatively reserved performance from all concerned – less flashy than before, but just as tight and jaw-dropping as always. There has been something of a shift in vocal styles as well, with little growling to be found, and Brann Dailor seems to be taking more of a vocal role – in particular on ‘Creature Lives’, composed and sung entirely by him.
The aforementioned contrast spreads from just the songs themselves to permeate every part of the album. Emotionally, this is a very multi-faceted beast. Mastodon seem to have refound their sense of humour with the likes of ‘Stargasm’ and (at least in terms of its title) ‘Octopus Has No Friends’. There is an anger here as well, as is to be expected – at times a quiet rage, at others a raging beast. But there is also a deep sadness. The catalyst for this album was, according to members of the band, the deaths of those they held close, and it shows here. The slower songs show it more, the title track in particular being rather somber, but it is most evident on closer ‘The Sparrow.’ A simple song, it has only four words for lyrics, repeated over and over – “Pursue Happiness With Diligence.” And it is amazing how touching it is – this is a beautiful end to an album, and a beautiful farewell. It is a testament to Mastodon, perhaps, that they can produce something so schizophrenic, so delicately multifaceted, and yet make it sound entirely coherent.
Mastodon is a band that I have great respect and admiration for. They are one of my favorite metal bands, maybe even one of my top bands period. When Blood Mountain came out I listened to it every single day for nearly a year, and it's still one of my favorite albums. Their blend of psychedelic prog and crushing sludge/trash metal was incredibly captivating and highly listenable on that album. Fast forward to 2009, the year they released "Crack the Skye", which was my favorite album of that year. They had progressed, no pun intended, into more of a definite "prog metal" band with that release in my opinion. Less brutal aggression and more singing, which cause a lot of long-time fans hoping that they would one day return to the sound of Remission of Leviathan to jump ship and call sell-out. But to me, it was really love at first listen from the moment that Oblivion dropped into it's first verse and Brann Dailor started sining. It was a definite change, but it showed that Mastodon didn't want to be tied down and rehash their roots.
Which brings us to The Hunter, Mastodons 5th full length album. In the interviews I read with the band they stated that this album was going to make a lot of people confused and take more than a couple double takes.Usually when I read statements like that I generally don't hold very high expectations, cause they whole "changed sound" thing is pretty overblown in the press, which is what i thought about Nile's last album for example. But upon listening to The Hunter I can safely say that this is an album that may make a lot of fans angry, and definitely even more surprised.
The Hunter marks another huge step in the bands career, and leaves a lot of comfort zones behind. This is the first album that lacks a concept, like how Remission was fire based, Leviathan was based on Moby Dick, Blood Mountain was about earth and mythical beasts and Crack the Skye was about a paraplegic who gets lost in a wormhole while astral projecting, this album is merely a collection of songs. This is also the first album to feature artwork from AJ Fosik, marking a departure from Paul Ramano who has done all their album artwork to date.
I don't want to say that Mastodon have dumbed down their sound, it's more like they stripped it down. The ban has stated that they were sort of burned out by the heavy concepts and instead just made an album that they wanted to have fun recording and performing. Which I can understand, the last album drew heavy inspiration from the passing of Brann Dailors sister, which I can imagine gets pretty hard to re-live night after night on tour when you have to preform those songs. However, The Hunter is called such in honor of Brent Hinds brother who passed away while making the album.
This being the case, The Hunter definitely feels like a breath of fresh air for the band. They've created music that I think is a nice mix of everything that they've done to this point, but still feels new. There are some songs that I could see being b-sides to Crack the Skye, like the title track, or "Black Tongue", or some of the proggier songs in the last half of "Blood Mountain". Though songs like "Blasteroid" and "Spectralight" still keep the heavy sludge sound.
But Mastodon have definitely had a lot of fun with this release, just one look at song title like "The Octopus has no Friends" or "Stargasm" or "Bedazzled Fingernails" should tell you that. Again, this may make a lot of fans worried and confused about this bands drastic change. Another thing I have to mention is the incredible increase in vocal talent on this album, especially in regards to Troy Sanders. His singing is phenomenal! When I first heard Black Tongue I was floored by his delievery. It just sucks that he most likely won't be able to pull it off live. Just like Crack the Skye, there is little to no screaming on any of these songs. I'm also happy to hear Brann Dailor singing more on this album, including the entirty of "Creature Lives", which is definitely one of the weirder songs on the album. With the swelling synth intro and the epic chord progressions, it sounds like Mastodon found a lost Pink Floyd song from the recording of "The Wall" and made it their own.
There is one thing about this album that I am yet to get over. I am so used to Mastodon making concept albums, that this sudden change to merely a "collection of songs" sits a little uneasy for me. I'm so used to putting on a Mastodon album and listening to it all the way through and going on somewhat of a journey through it's concept, which is more of the "album" format. I can almost safely say that this flows like a "mixtape" than anything else. Lll the songs end independently, none of them lead into each other, and this being the case, I feel like a lot of these songs don't go anywhere, like theres no build up or climax to a lot of these songs. In the end, this feels like an album that I feel like I can skip some tracks and not feel like i'm loosing any of the experience.
But when I do get done listening to The Hunter, I feel good, I feel really good. This is still a very good album, and one that I feel I have yet to fully appreciate. It's not as good as Crack the Skye, but it's another strong release from an amazing band. A lot of other fans might disagree and yell "sell-out" at the bands stripped down, more "rock" oriented sounds and structure, but this is a band that refuses to be pinned down and wants to progress. They have integrity, and it's payed off in my book.