Release date: September 26, 2011 (EU), September 27, 2011 (U.S.)
“Boundaries? We don’t need no stinking boundaries.” This seems to be the mindset from Atlanta’s sludge metal outfit, Mastodon. The quartet’s newest opus, The Hunter, continues the band’s tradition of being, well, non-traditional. These guys simply do whatever the hell they please, and in the process they seem to please damn near everyone.
People keep asking my thoughts on the new record and I keep telling them The Hunter is one of the year’s best, and a triumphant successor to the band’s breakthrough album, Crack The Skye. Yes, I actually speak in soundbites. I tell them go read my review, and they say what review? I’ve been touting this record so much, apparently I assumed I’d written my thoughts down somewhere.
The Hunter is arguably Mastodon‘s best album to date, which is saying quite a lot given the epicness (can we still use that word?) of Crack The Skye. This album is at times heavier than its predecessor, and is the band’s most progressive to date. There are moments on this record that will remind the listener of Crack The Skye and 2006’s Blood Mountain as a whole, this is a mix of 2002’s debut Remission and 2004’s Leviathan albums, taken to another plain.
It is as if the band has fully grown into its sonic skin, and in that assured self-awareness Mastodon no longer endeavor to be creative, they simply are. They are writing for nobody now but themselves and it has freed them on every level. Something that shows in the band’s choice of producer, Mike Elizondo, who is best known for his work with artists like Alanis Morrisette, Maroon 5, Kate Voegele, and numerous hip-hop artists.
From the album artwork on through the various song titles there seems to be a randomness and a quirky sense of humor. Song titles like “Bedazzled Fingernails”, “Stargasm”, “Octopus Has No friends”, and “Blasteroids” show off the band’s odd sense of humor. Yet the auditory side of the record is serious business.
While the band still maintains its sludgy side it is less apparent on this album, giving us a more straightforward metal foundation, overlaid by dark textures. The Hunter is a more stripped down, organic affair, less focused on concept, and more emotion on sleeve. In fact, this is the band’s most personal album yet, often touching on the tribulations the band has endured in recent years.
The lead off track “Black Tongue”, penned by bassist Troy Sanders, comes right at the listener with beefy riffs, and baleful atmosphere. Surprisingly simplistic in its approach, but no less satisfying in its delivery, this track is an ideal tone-setter for what’s to come.
Guitarist Brent Hinds rolls out some of the band’s trademark sludge on the melodic and groove-flavored “Curl Of The Burl”. This track harks back to some of Mastodon‘s earliest moments, resplendent in its off-kilter harmoniousness.
“”Blasteroids” is kicks off as a harmony-laden jaunt with a touch of psychedelics in the mix. It stands as the shortest of the CD’s 13 tracks, coming in at around two-and-a-half minutes. This segues quite nicely into the spaciness of “Stargasm”.
“Octopus Has No Friends” begins with a Rush-like vibe. In fact, this sounds like Rush meets The Alan Parson’s Project…on steroids. The band shows off nice guitar work from Hinds and Bill Kelliher here, but the rhythm section of Sanders and drummer Brann Dailor certainly shines as well.
Another Sanders track, “All The Heavy Lifting”, is highlighted by Dailor’s relentless drum work. The song is a booming sonic intoxicant. In contrast, the album’s title cut is driven by bold emotion. “The Hunter” verily weeps with melancholy. The song, a tribute to Hinds’ brother, who perished last year while on a hunting trip. The track’s discordant rhythms meld into a beautifully transfixing guitar solo.
Ominous Ebowed guitars create a sonorous interlude into the desolate feel of “Dry Bone Valley”, a Dailor penned and sung track, which is one of the album’s many highlights. Dailor also turns in a gifted vocal rumination on “Creature Lives” with its floating abstract Pink Floyd-esque dynamic.
Neurosis vocalist/guitarist Scott Kelly makes a vocal appearance on the track “Spectrelight”. This may be the song’s heaviest and most punishing track, and a nice moment of brutality to balance the album’s moodier and stoic moments. This is followed by perhaps the CD’s quirkiest and most obscure track, the aforementioned “Bedazzled Fingernails” with it’s groovy layered oddness. This might best be described as “spacegroove”.
Each track on The Hunter stands tall on its own merits, but threaded together, they create a majestic tapestry of aural brilliance. From blistering riffage to moments of stark beauty, this record combines all of Mastodon‘s finest elements, and reinvents them with an overtone of powerful melancholy.