Reprise Records 2011
With a back catalogue jam packed with concept albums it would seem Mastodon were in the mood for a change with “The Hunter“. For not only does it see the band abandoning one of the key ingredients of their studio output (a concept,) but also finds them heading in some rather unexpected directions as well.
On the surface “The Hunter” has the potential to be a rather controversial album for the group. Shying away from their penchant for intricately constructed prog complexity in favor of a more groove driven, though no less convoluted, style of songwriting; much of “The Hunter” has a very ‘jam’ like feel.
That’s not to say it isn’t a dense listen, but the once serrated edges have certainly been dulled to achieve a much softer sonic palette. This more melodic direction is evidenced greatly in the beefed up vocal harmonizing that permeates the album, along with the increase in melody overall.
Case in point, the fairly subtle inclusion of keys and synths that appear on five of the albums thirteen songs. In many ways this tuneful approach makes the effort more digestible on a track by track basis. But it also lessens the epic feel that has often defined Mastodon releases. A song like “The Curl Of The Burl” bristles with near poppy hooks and immediately crunchy riffs. On the other hand, a track like “The Hunter” sprawls forth with a Neurosis-like dirge which places a heavy emphasis on haunting melody.
Truly balance and moderation were not apparent concerns on “The Hunter” and in some ways that feels refreshing. There’s a lot of rather smoky guitar heroics on display with the most modern comparison probably being The Sword. But to be sure stoner or rehashed psych rock this is not. If anything it merely shares a spiritual kinship with the 60′s and 70′s rock movement where musicianship and experimentation were put first before the message.
It certainly takes an adjustment period to get used to what Mastodon are trying to accomplish on “The Hunter“. Without the pressure (and subsequent focus) of adhering to a concept, things can get a bit out of hand. Especially on the track “The Creature Lives“, an oddly uplifting choral Swans-reminiscent affair that takes on the unenviable position of being the albums ugly duckling.
Of course there’s also the requisite guest appearance from Neurosis‘ Scott Kelly on the more straight forward ripper “Spectrelight“. There’s also the ominous and ethereal melody of the eerie Pink Floyd-like closer “The Sparrow“. As an album “The Hunter” is an intense sonic voyage filled with lush, dark scenery. In fact, it takes multiple listens to fully digest and pick apart what you’ve just experienced.
Its sounds carries few direct ties to any Mastodon opus before it and signals what isn’t necessarily a new chapter for the band; so much as an intriguingly revised playbook. One filled with a new series of options and choices which the group willfully take advantage of.
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