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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.