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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.