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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.