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Album Review
The Hunter

The Hunter
by Mastodon

Reprise/Roadrunner Records

Review Date
29th September 2011
Reviewed by
Ricardo Kerr

After four outrageously epic, high concept albums it appears that the most daring thing that Georgia’s Mastodon could do is make a straight-forward rock record. That may have been their intention but nothing is ever straight forward with this psychotropic metal quartet. After 2009’s jaw dropping Crack The Skye there was little room for the band to go upwards (they travelled to space, hell, and Tsarist Russia in album’s crazy back story) so they have spilled sideways instead. The result is The Hunter, an album built on contradictions and a sheer lack of common sense.

One element of Mastodon that is always worth mentioning is their approach toward singing. Not many metal bands have the luxury of three vocalists (guitarists, yes; vocalists, no) and Mastodon use their atypical line-up for all it is worth. Some songs actually see all three singers (guitarist Brent Hinds, bass player Troy Sanders, and drummer Bran Dailor) trading places. It gives an interesting mix of heavy, sweet, and trippy that is basically unseen in metal. Instrumentally the band delivers exactly what we have come to expect. The guitars can riff and shred with the best of them or soar with wings made from tripped out special effects. The bass is a menacing and ever-present force and the drums clatter away like a heavy-metal octopus is behind the kit.

The first song on the album was also the first song released to the world. In isolation “Black Tongue” seemed like the perfect introduction to the new material but when sitting side-by-side with the nuttiness that is all over the record it sounds rather pedestrian. It is in these instances that the band is a victim of their own success. Is it a good song? Hell yes. Is it even close to being the best they have? Far from it. The next song, “Curl of the Burl”, is brilliantly stupid in its approach to lyrics “I killed a man ‘cos he killed my goat / I put my hands around his throat” croons the tattooed Hinds in his unmistakable southern drawl. It isn’t exactly Hemmingway but that seems to be the point. The guitars have the clinical acumen of Tool’s Adam Jones and the harmonised chorus reeks of Queens of the Stone Age. If you were going to sit there and try and pick out all of the bands that Mastodon sound a bit like you would be sitting there literally all day and completely missing out on all the fun.

Mastodon seems set on redefining where the ‘deep end’ is (as in ‘Mastodon has really gone off the …’). “Stargasm” actually sounds just like the title would suggest; a muddle of explosive phasing guitars and sci-fi sounds as well as a tenderly sung chorus about being on fire. The song “The Hunter” is oddly touching as Hinds eulogises his late brother with a tastefully paraphrased Beatles quote (“All the love I make is equal to the love I take”). “Thickening” has a leaden stoner-rock groove that recalls the Palm Desert scene of the early 90s. Prepare to be confused at “Creature Live” which is more Yes / Rush than I ever could have dared. It is a cleanly sung, rousing ballad that tells of the difficulty that swamp monsters have at making friends. I kid you not! If you were pining for the heavy-as-hell days of Remission and Leviathan, The Hunter is accommodating for you too. “Blasteroids” is a violent thrasher of a song, as are “All The Heavy Lifting” and “Spectrelight”. Whatever these man-gods put their hands on they make their own. Everything builds up to the emotional kiss-off of “The Sparrow” which closes out the album in style.

This breed of eccentric, obtuse metal is quite the fashion these days. The American sludge metal scene is crammed full of bearded men with kaleidoscope eyes and a Neurosis-sized chip on their shoulders (Scott Kelly from Neurosis even guest stars on this album like he has done with their previous three), but no-one does it quite like Mastodon. They continue to make killer albums full of inventiveness and manic vitality that is damned hard to match. The Hunter is a summary of everywhere the band has been over the past 12 years and everything they have been in that time. The only remaining question is, where to next?


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