So you say MASTODON has a new album out? And it sucks? Huh? That doesn’t even make, like, sense…or something.
Yes, it’s true, and no, it doesn’t suck. The band with enough fanboys to cool off a Provinceton cabana party is back with “The Hunter,” MASTODON’s most catchy and downright brutal album yet.
Yeah, it’s actually not that brutal, but it is a savagely fun ride that does a very solid job of relaxing on the “Crack the Skye” progression while anteing up on the “Blood Mountain” accessibility factor. Some may deem it too far-reaching of an album, too vulnerable to the snatching claws of flannelled scenesters everywhere, but this should be no great revelation. MASTODON have entered a level of the Metal atmosphere that can no longer contain them, and because of this, they will forever be loathed and loved by fans initially melted over by the inspired heaviness of albums like “Remission” and “Leviathan.”
In spite of what critics claim, any problems on “The Hunter” have little to do with its heaviness or its accessibility or even its sure-fire nod to land on a hundred trendy top-ten lists. Like any MASTODON album, there is brilliance and there are question marks. The songs on “Hunter,” the band’s second non-concept album, ranges from grooving and melodic to bizarre and oddly incompatible and that’s just fine.
While tracks like “Octopus Has No Friends” and “Bedazzled Fingernails” (yes, strange track names abound) sound cool with insane guitar work, smooth vocals, and weird time signatures, they struggle to stand among the record's other stronger tracks – though, I do enjoy the eerie space whine at the end of the latter and the chorus in the former.
Guaranteed crowd-pleasers include the flying intro track “Black Tongue” and its successor, “Curl of the Burl,” a Southern-style woodsmen addict song that blues’ its way into serious jam territory. “Blasteroid” continues the toe-tapping with Troy Sanders’ thumping bass and even steers into a crazed lyrical route with Sanders and guitarist Brett Hinds blaring about blood drinking and breaking glass.
The space-sex anthem of the album arrives in the way of the fittingly titled “Stargasm,” a slow-peddling, time-stopper of a song that would much rather groove than careen full-steam ahead. One of the longer and more dynamic tracks is “The Hunter,” a big and gentle opus that’s domineered by its curious and pouring vocals and the guitar playing of Hinds and Bill Kelliher.
“Thickening” offers more emotive guitar work with its melding of the odd and the beautiful, “Spectrelight” is undoubtedly the heaviest track with a surging pace and guest vocals by Scott Kelly of NEUROSIS, and the “The Sparrow” is a somber and sweetly resonant track that soothes the album to a gentle conclusion by way of Hinds’ guitar playing and the song’s four-lyric repetition.
Although the album surely has room to grow, three songs in particular control (this reviewer’s) rotation. The behemoth of the album is undoubtedly “All the Heavy Lifting,” a brilliantly catchy and powerfully anthemic song that’s driven by the huge and awesome drums of Brann Dailor and the rolling bass and vox of Sanders. The other two are interestingly enough both sung by Dailor, “Dry Bone Valley” and “Creature Lives,” a tandem of wondrously rhythmic tracks that weave themselves into your psyche with expressive vocal work and the band’s smooth and implicitly rocking musicianship.
“The Hunter” may not cater to those expecting a singular MASTODON style, but those eager to hear a band continuing to grow and dismiss genre tags can expect to enjoy an artistically vibrant album worth plenty of musical value. The price of admission would be well spent.
(Online November 4, 2011)