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Mainstream Extinction V: FUCK YOU, MA-TI! YOU SUCK - 68%

BastardHead, May 10th, 2013

Truth be told, because I hated Crack the Skye such an unfathomably large amount, I couldn't give even the minutest of fucks about The Hunter. In fact, I didn't listen to it until I decided to do this series, and even then I didn't bother with it until I'd finished writing on the four previous albums, so as to not taint anything or potentially warp my old perspective of the band. This was going to be a new experience for me, this was an entirely new album by a band I once really liked that had since fallen into the toilet, and the only bit I'd heard about it was that it was apparently lighter and more radio friendly. That's all I knew, no other preconceived notions.

Frankly? It's okay. Certainly worlds better than fucking Crack the Skye, that's for sure.

At this point, Mastodon had proclaimed that they were tired of trying to be so heavy all the time (booo!) and instead were going to go in a direction that would allow them to have more fun with their music (yaaay!). I love fun music, I don't care how silly that makes me. It's why I listen to Blood Stain Child and The Decline and Gargoyle and Municipal Waste and Kvelertak and all kinds of other bands, because they're fun to listen to and I love that. Mastodon had dashes of fun here and there on songs like "Megalodon" and "The Wolf is Loose", but Crack the Skye was a tedious chore, and even if you liked the album, you certainly don't list "fun" as one of its qualities. That wasn't what they aimed for, so hearing that their new goal was to have some more fun with what they do for a living actually pumped me up quite a bit.

The final product here, with 2011's The Hunter, is actually pretty divisive, and yet at the same time pretty homogenous. This is a clear departure from the more matured (dull) and adventurous (meandering) direction they were taking with the previous album, so a large contingent of fans are going to have issues with how light this is compared to anything they'd done in the past ("Curl of the Burl", despite having a very catchy, bluesy main riff, catches a lot of shit in particular for this reason) right off the bat, but personally, I find the commercialism is overstated. I mean yeah, "Curl of the Burl" could be on the radio, but that's really about it. The rest of these tracks are all either too heavy or two weird for any substantial airplay, and they usually do pretty well for themselves depending on what they shoot for. There are some strange, trippy pieces like "Stargasm", "The Hunter", and "The Sparrow", and unsurprisingly those do pretty much nothing for me. I suppose they work for what they are, and they at least keep themselves for being shorter than your average drone track. Some tracks like to wander between the two styles on display, like "All the Heavy Lifting", but apart from the droning stoner chorus, that particular track is completely unmemorable. In fact, most of the album apart from the first three or four tracks until the last two or so are pretty unmemorable. Oh don't get me wrong, there are pieces that stand out, like the incredibly soothing "Creature Lives" (this song would have been terrible if attempted in a previous album. The laid back style and harmonized vocals work stunningly at this point in the band's career) or the blistering "Spectrelight", but most of The Hunter ends up being nary a blur after repeated listens.

Of the two styles, I find the heavier stuff is far more memorable. "Blasteroid" is a Mastodon classic as far as I'm concerned, with an incredibly slick main riff, just oozing with bluesy charm, and the seemingly lost Blood Mountain b-side in "Spectrelight", which starts off blazing and never nods off. And then there is the bonus track, "The Ruiner". The fact that something incredibly tedious like the title track or "Thickening" wound up making the final cut while this fist pumping, bone crunching stomper was left out is nothing short of a mystery to me. It carries the most memorable chorus on the album, for Greek's sake ("Heavy weeeiiighs thuuh crooow-ow-hooowwn"). It's impossible to resist singing along with. When Mastodon said they were going to go in a less intellectual and more fun direction, this is the kind of track I was imagining. Leviathan/Blood Mountain mashups with big hooks and singalong vocal lines. You see, this is the kind of Mastodon I miss. The band that used to put all of their energy into every song, every bar, every note. That energy, that oh-so-missed showboating percussion, it's all but absent apart from three tracks that exude it marvelously. "Blasteroid", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner" are by far the best tracks on display, and the only other one I can even put in that same echelon (despite being a completely different style) is "Creature Lives". Four tracks. Four tracks from a band whose first three albums never dipped below six or seven total classics amongst a bunch of other pretty good songs.

Mastodon really reined it in here, and that rarely works to a band's advantage, especially when they built their base popularity around how aggressive and energetic the once were. Taking a band like Sex Pistols and telling them to write something more akin to Snow Patrol is going to end up sucking, and the same thing happened when Mastodon decided to try to be like Genesis. Thankfully, the overindulgence is mostly gone on The Hunter, but the tripped out psychedelic parts still rear their heads occasionally, and they still managed to not really work. It's clear that this is what the band wants to do at this point, but they still never figured out how to do it well. They've always been at their best when releasing all that energy they've built up, and yet their latest album finds them doing their best to avoid doing just that. This isn't really as poppy or commercial as it's advertised, but it's still just a sort of diluted version of what the band delivered on their last two albums. The huge dead streak in the middle of the album is a huge mark against it, but the first couple tracks are pretty decent, and there are four fantastic ones that would be live staples if I had my way ("Blasteroid", "Creature Lives", "Spectrelight", and "The Ruiner"), so it's not a worthless album. They're just missing their best elements, which really drags down the idea they were going for.

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