I was a bit of a latecomer to the Mastodon party. I hadn't discovered them until Crack the Skye, and from that, you can imagine my surprise going back through their discography afterwards. Mastodon's sound, though it has a distinctive flavour, is constantly changing, and their newest release, The Hunter, is no exception.
The Hunter is a serious departure from Crack the Skye, in that the songs are a lot less focused on being progressive and more so on being heavy, concentrated bites of sludge metal. It's not quite as heavy or emotionally-laden as Remission (sadly), but the songs still have an extremely weighty character that Crack the Skye couldn't quite capture. The songs are a lot more concentrated and nuclear, for one thing. Mastodon's sound has also taken an even sharper turn for the accessible--I'd dare to say that The Hunter flirts heavily with pop metal if it weren't for the fact that I'm sure Brent Hinds could smother me using his beard alone from several counties over. The lead singles "Curl of the Burl" and "Black Tongue" are both incredibly easy listens by Mastodon's standards, in fact by anyone's standards, but still manage to exude that distinctive flavour of Mastodon earthiness. The songs in general here all have that standout quality, like Mastodon's previous singles "Colony of Birchmen" or "Oblivion," that is sure to make most of them into instant favourites.
One benefit of that is a lot of the riffs on this album are insanely well-done. "Octopus Has No Friends" has the most incredible opening riff, even if it is somewhat simply designed, and "All the Heavy Lifting" has an incredible middle section in an extremely subdued way. "The Sparrow" has an intense Isis-like buildup to it while rounding off the album; it will inevitably whet your appetite for more. The best moment by far, however, has to be in "Stargasm." Let's just say the title is accurate regarding my feelings towards that song's riffing and leave it at that. A few of the riffs do feel a bit recycled--I keep waiting for the part in "The Hunter" where it will resolve itself into "The Czar." Additionally, a few aren't nearly as strong as Mastodon seem to think they are--"Curl of the Burl" and "Blasteroid" are both inexplicably well below the band's standards. But these are the exceptions to the rule. Almost every song on here features at least one part that is guaranteed to make you go "that is the illest thing I have ever heard." And then you will chastise yourself for using terrible, grammatically-incorrect, and outdated slang. Jeez.
Being Mastodon's first album since their debut to not be a concept album (as well as their first album not associated with any of the classical elements), all of the songs feel very disconnected from each other. While that's not a bad thing in of itself, it is very different from what most Mastodon fans would expect. The album as a whole feels like Blood Mountain without the knowledge that yes, there is some cohesion to these songs. It does feel a bit less rewarding knowing that the album sounds essentially the same when you listen to it on shuffle and that the tracklisting itself carries little-to-no meaning, but that's a nitpick only the true snobs (*ahem*) would take issue with.
Though there aren't any growls on this album (come on, guys, none at all?), all of the vocalists on this album (i.e., the whole band) perform extremely well. There's a lot to be said for listening to an album and having an extremely healthy variety of lead vocals to listen to, rather than the same person over and over. This is especially true within individual songs, like "The Hunter." My favourite moments, however, have to be drummer Brann Dailor's lead moments, especially "Dry Bone Valley" and "Creature Lives." Long-time collaborator Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot) does his guest vocals for this album on the track "Spectrelight," and, as always, delivers a standout performance, ever-so-slightly eclipsing Mastodon themselves. The lack-of-a-concept album issue does come into play again here, as a lot of Mastodon's lyrics seem a lot less powerful without any overall cohesion to drive them. There isn't anything offensively terrible, sure, but there are more than a few occasions where the lyrics seem like afterthoughts to the song itself.
And do forgive me for a moment if I mention a non-musical aspect of this album: I absolutely adore the cover art. Though it's not one of Paul Romano's beautiful pieces as it was with previous albums, woodcarver AJ Fosik's work is absolutely impeccable and fits incredibly well with Mastodon's music. (Watch the video for "Black Tongue" to see him creating it--it's really fascinating.)
This is really a great album overall. Basically, if you're already a fan of Mastodon and you haven't taken umbrage with the band's direction towards the accessible since Leviathan, then you're going to love The Hunter. If you haven't enjoyed Mastodon's harsher efforts but still find their sound interesting, or you're unfamiliar with the band in general and are looking for an entry point, give this one a listen--there's a large chance it'll sway your favour.
8.5 / 10
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