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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.