Were it not for the near-unanimous praise that The Hunter, Mastodon’s fifth and latest album, has been receiving, I’d be reluctant to submit the following review, such is its incredibly subjective, biased and one-sided nature (I make no bones about my Mastodon worship…). However, seeing as it’s pretty much a given that the band are incapable of releasing anything other than awesome music, and that The Hunter has already been hailed by all and sundry as another slice of musical perfection from the Atlanta quartet, I don’t feel in the slightest bit bad in going all-out in my gushing praise of the record.
In fact, I’d go as far as to say that The Hunter is such an incredible piece of work that I’ve seldom stopped listening to it enough to find time to write anything about it. It’s distractingly good, in that no sooner have you finished listening to it, you want to put it straight back on and balls to doing anything else (hence it taking me almost two months to get this review done – well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it anyway…)
The real stand-out feature of The Hunter is its variety compared to each of the band’s previous albums. That’s not to say the other records are lacking in variation – if you know Mastodon, you’ll know that’s far from the truth – but whereas Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye (and to a lesser extent, Remission) all had specific underlying themes and an individual sound distinct to each particular album, this isn’t quite the case with The Hunter.
Doing away with the high concepts and lengthier tracks of previous albums (the longest song is under six minutes; compare that to the 13-minute epics ‘Hearts Alive’ on Leviathan and ‘The Last Baron’ from Crack the Skye), the band have managed to squeeze 13 individual, unique, and (rather uncharacteristically) streamlined and straightforward tracks into one record. And yet for all its differences to the band’s previous work, it still sounds like a Mastodon album.
Album opener ‘Black Tongue’ could perhaps be considered quite a ‘typical’ song for the band (if there is such a thing), as could later track ‘Spectrelight’ (featuring the now obligatory appearance from Neurosis’s Scott Kelly), and certain aspects are unmistakably Mastodon (namely, the dual lead guitars, Brann’s drumming and both Brent and Troy’s vocals) but otherwise, the rest of The Hunter shows the band at their most varied and experimental – see the likes of ‘Bedazzled Fingernails’ and the total curveball that is ‘Creature Lives’ – despite the apparent lack of high-brow prog rock pretensions when compared to their last couple of albums.
What’s more, even if you don’t like Mastodon (for shame!), there’s a chance that you may still like The Hunter, such is its accessible nature. I can just about understand why not everyone absolutely loves the older likes of ‘Iron Tusk’, ‘Mother Puncher’ and ‘Where Strides the Behemoth’, but compared to that lot, The Hunter is positively radio-friendly.
For example, ‘Curl of the Burl’ and the very QOTSA-like ‘Thickening’ are more simple and mid-tempo than often heard from the band, while ‘All the Heavy Lifting’ has a chorus that just begs to be sung aloud (as does ‘Stargasm’, if you can decipher Brent’s Alabama twang). Elsewhere, the title track and album closer ‘The Sparrow’ both bring a more downbeat and melodic edge to the album while in contrast, ‘Blasteroid’ and ‘Dry Bone Valley’ inject a bit of pace, and ‘Octopus Has No Friends’ is arguably the happiest sounding song Mastodon have ever released. You see, I told you it was varied…
In short, The Hunter is a stunning piece of work, and only serves to further galvanise Mastodon’s reputation as one of the best modern bands, metal or otherwise, out there today. The next test for the band is going to be how it translates on stage – as much as it pains me to say, they’re not always amazing live – but regardless of the odd bad show, there’s just no arguing with what Mastodon are capable of, to which The Hunter stands as perfect testament.