Mastodon - The Hunter
Progressively, from album to album, modern metal mainstays Mastodon (say that 5 times fast) have clearly chosen to do just that; progress. Their core sound has taken enough shifts and swings to last a career, but somehow a foundation remains that runs a thread of excellence across their discography. 2009's Crack The Skye was perhaps their most polarizing effort yet, truly branching out into lengthier, mellow, emotionally-tinged songs that ran a gamut from 70's classic rock to their more modern roots. What many fans could not comprehend is the way the band seemed to abandon their up-tempo hooks and fills in favor of extended, swilring, borderline psychadelic guitar passages and lyrics that focused more on reality and less on fantasy themes. On the other hand, many fell right in line with this new mode of thinking, finding the fleshed-out songwriting a welcome respite from the jarring bursts of...what the hell, call it progcore and tell me that doesn't sound bewildering. One had to expect, after all that, that Mastodon would surprise us yet again the next time around. And while The Hunter certainly caught me off-guard my first time through, after spending a good amount of time with it, it makes perfect sense.
Miss that old Mastodon sound? Well, "Black Tongue" will very quickly ease your pain. It's about as standard and straight-forward (in a good way) as you can ask for, and it delivers in whetting your appetite for the rest to come. And so we come to the first of a series of loops you'll be thrown for: "Curl of the Burl". Sounds akin to Led Zeppelin run through sludge and dried out in the blazing southern sun. In other words, it sounds friggin' awesome, but the first listen is simply offputting. "Is this MY Mastodon?", you'll wonder. After a minute or so of contemplating, you won't care. It's too good to care. "Blastoid" blends the high-paced percussive gymnastics the band is known for with an infectious vocal melody. "Stargasm" has some truly fasctinating guitar runs, and moves along at more of a mid-paced, balanced tempo. Thrown for a loop #2: "Octopus Has No Friends". Weird song title, sure, but wait until you hear the doomgrass (yes, this sounds like doom metal and bluegrass mixed). I'll be damned if they don't pull it off though. "All The Heavy Lifting" is a little bit generic in comparison, decent chorus but it doesn't really go anywhere. The title track is a rather moving tribute to guitarist Brent Hinds' brother, who died accidentally during a hunting trip with the album was being recorded. It sticks out for that emotional impact, and some very stirring guitar leads. I absolutely love the pacing, dual guitar leads and the wickedly old-school solo on "Dry Bone Valley". "Thickening" may start off familiar enough, but Thrown For A Loop #3: at about 1:35, when the intro abruptly ends, you're going to hear a sound from Mastodon that you've yet to hear. I can't quite put my finger on it; intensely catchy, understated, driven by some of the best drumming I've heard on a track in quite some time. Speaking of drums, modern percussive legend (because I said so) Brann Dailor gets his first taste at writing a full song, and "Creature Lives" is altogether a different beast. It begins with an intro that, to my ears, is a paid-in-full homage to Pink Floyd. The song proper is awesome, bizarre, simplified, with a gang-vocal chorus that is so abrupt, uplifting, it reminds me of something out of a Sigur Ros song. Honestly, that is probably dumb to say, but when you hear it, you might understand. "Spectrelight" welcomes back collaborator Scott Kelly (Neurosis) to the fold, and his vocals once again seem absolutely made for Mastodon. I can't quite fathom what the hell is going on on "Bedazzled Fingernails", and frankly, there's at least one track for every one of their albums that does this to me. It's still enjoyable, but...maybe it's just the name. And that creepy synth near the end.
"The Sparrow" deserves it's own paragraph. "The Sparrow" is one of the most touching pieces of music I've ever heard. It's got a lot to do with the contrast to the rest of the album, but it has a feel of sadness and loss to it that hits it's mark with me. I've admitted this here before, and once again, the first listen to this track brought a tear to my eye. Aw, shucks.
Why my prior fandom has done much to help me towards appreciating even more how awesome of a record The Hunter is, let me be frank and totally objective in saying Mastodon have officially become one of today's pioneers in the realm of metal. They may not be doing anything mind-blowingly unique, something that causes the world to pay attention, but damnit, you cannot direct to a band that can take a song and interject so much passion, so many clever ideas and so much raw talent. I just can't find a likely comparison. They're more accessible now than ever before, and while many fans have simply been left in the cold by this, I find no fault in it. They are still striking the same satisfactory tone in me that they did on Remission. As a matter of fact, I'm certain they've only gotten better and better as time has gone on.
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on 2011-09-25 SolitaryMan Said:
Sorry about the novel-length, folks. Whenever I truly love an album, I find myself drooling over it in print-form hahaha. Still, The Hunter is getting my nod for album of the year as of right now. Any fans here need to check it out, I'd certainly appreciate some varying opinion. I hope it isn't just me who thinks this album is one song shy of being perfect.