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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.