Mastodon The Hunter(Reprise) Buy it from Insound
Over the last decade, Mastodon has been building upon progressive time signatures, rhythmic heft, fantastical and, at times, absurd lyricism, annihilating guitar riffs and conceptual oddity, cultivating a significantly high standard of performance and construct that’s time and time again incredible to absorb. The Hunter is no different in most of those respects, though the conceptual oddity is off the table this time around.
According to the guitarist, Bill Kelliher, The Hunter is “a spontaneous record based off music that comes off our fingertips in the moment.” Being that Mastodon functions so well as conjurers of strangeness amid their very refined songwriting, The Hunter risks becoming The White Album, or some other such “parting of the ways” treatise to disorganization or over-ambition. In some ways this is true, but as Mastodon prove over and over again, they’re amazing at what they do and frighteningly incapable of slipping up. And, yes, I admit to being a tad kiss ass and overtly in awe, but there’s really no other way to react to The Hunter. It’s addictive, intense and very satisfying to listen to. Its drawbacks or flaws, if there really are any, are difficult to single out or define. Seriously, why does a song called Stargasm have to be good? The truckload of jabs and insults I could come up with for such a foolishly titled song lay wasted thanks to the band’s sonically articulated colossus. And, this is the “spontaneous” record!
Electing to use producer Mike Elizondo, noted for producing acts like 50 Cent, Eminem and Maroon 5, (for some of which, thanks to The Hunter, he can be forgiven), the combined efforts of Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds, Brann Dailor and Kelliher churn out a familiar level of changes and six-string intricacies, though moments like Curl of the Burl, Blasteroid and Spectrelight (with vocal assistance from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly) rely more on thickness of riff and persistence of rhythm. Other songs on the album revel in the ever-widening possibilities of time shifts and musical expanse. It should be noted, though, that even as Mastodon continue to explore how far they can take their ideas, there’s an economic approach to this album that cancels out detracting or oft-used descriptors tied to something musically adventurous. A phrase like “self-indulgent” has no meaning here. Most of the songs are finished up in the space of four minutes, leaving the band little time to fuck around and leaving listeners no time to get bored.
From its opening and sinister few notes, Black Tongue announces that any expectations or pre-conceived notions you had about The Hunter going in will likely be met. The low end follows the riff and the percussion pours out in avalanches of kick drum and cymbal taps. Curl of the Burl follows with amplified crunch and somewhat of an anthemic kick. The mandatory rock fist flies all through Blasteroid, its intensififed hook announcing such intentions as “I WANNA DRINK SOME FUCKING BLOOD!/I WANNA BREAK SOME FUCKING GLASS!/I WANNA SQUEEZE YOU TILL YOU’RE INSIDE OUT!/I WANT IT ALL!” By the end, all you can really say, “Well, fuck… Me, too! Let’s break shit!”
Stargasm, which interestingly enough is a song about two sexes swinging an episode in outer space, has the sort of density and atmospheric nuance that Crack The Skye heavily relied upon for the floating “out of body” concept it was shooting for. But, without the constraint of concept, even as Stargasm generates a similar level of sonic wander, there’s some looseness to the playing and the addition of campy monster theatrics takes its seriousness down a notch, even if the playing is an album highlight.
Following are the rhythmically off-kilter and riff-sharp Octopus Has No Friends (um…what?) and All The Heavy Lifting, both of which push the aggression as much as possible before the title track slows the album down with an epic guitar-driven duet between Hinds and Sanders. It’s a gorgeous track and really the only opportunity the album has to breathe before Dry Bone Valley, which gets uncomfortably close to Alice In Chains.
A randomly spliced interaction of impromptu jamming vs. grinding chords carries Thickening into the very strange Creature Lives, a question mark for Mastodon with epic, Ozzy-posturing and more monster-inspired theatricality and mad scientist laughter. Annihilation follows risk with the chugging Spectrelight. Bedazzled Fingernails acts essentially as one mode and one speed, varied by a shifting tempo that rather brilliantly loses and regains footing.
The Hunter closes with The Sparrow, sort of a Dark Side of the Moon moment that more or less encompasses Mastodon’s strength as a band capable of bridging categorical gaps. Inasmuch as the band can boast huge metallic sounds and riffs, a sophisticated level of detail and precision, the gift of expanse and the energy and spiritedness of even the most basic rock n’ roll, The Hunter grants them an opportunity to not have to one-up their previous output, out “math” their songwriting or conceptualize themselves into a rut. Instead, Mastodon chooses to utilize their intrinsic value as a band to come up with what could be viewed as expertly crafted improv. From start to finish, The Hunter is a collection of songs that inadvertently expands their repertoire and capabilities while they turn off their heads and let their fingers tell the story.5 October, 2011 - 11:26 — Sean Caldwell