Review : MASTODON – "The Hunter"

MastodonThe Hunter
Release: 2011Sept27 (US)
Label: Reprise
Rating: 3.5/5

Ever since I began reviewing albums, there was always a compulsion to see what others were saying before mine went up (I have occasionally been the first). And I have to say… just… wow… the first wave of Mastodon reviews are fucking atrocious. Poor research, grammar, phrasing, insight; mostly scattershot ideas cobbled together. I’ve been guilty of this, too, but at least mine don’t drag you along with empty thesaurus wankery, desperately veiling their lack of substance like a poor man’s Prometheus, as if they harvested the bones from that very bull on the cover art and coated them with blubbering, fatty prose.

/rant

It feels incongruous to write in flowery terms about what is allegedly their “fun” album, the one with the least pretense. So let me say this once again, as simply as possible: Mastodon is, more or less, a 21st-century American Voivod. Think about it. Raw beginnings, perpetual trend-bucking, unconventional guitar heroics, challenging vocals, fearless evolution, a (sometimes) subtle obsession with space, drummers who form many of the overarching concepts; all ingredients are present. The Hunter seems like their Angel Rat—with the mixed initial reception following an acclaimed crossover album, more accessible feel, and scant resemblance to their original sound.

The problem I have with The Hunter, though, is that this “fun” album is their least fun to listen to. Is it different than the rest? Well, of course. No two Mastodon albums are that similar, but this lacks the heaviness of Remission, the memorability of Leviathan, the daring nature of Blood Mountain, or the grandiosity of Crack the Skye. There is nothing inherently wrong with this delivery; in fact, I’ve come to expect uniqueness from this band. What it lacking, then? I think it’s the “extra member” quality that unifies their past efforts. Not necessarily a theme, the sense that these songs belong together.

And despite the grand departure that was Crack the Skye, when I first heard that album (after staving off pre-release spins of individual tracks), it received no less than three immediate play-throughs. I yearned to hear these songs again; they radiated with intrigue. Perhaps personal preference now comes into play, and maybe you’ll have the same experience with The Hunter. Anyway, the licks of “Black Tongue” hit me weeks before the full release, with its muscular riffing and sparse-yet-meaningful lyrics. Part of the pre-release also left me happily bathed in “Spectrelight”, with additional vocals and lyrics from longtime contributor Scott Kelly (Neurosis, Shrinebuilder), although I was suspicious about “Curl of the Burl”—a song that sticks in my head, but is not exactly welcome. The level of repetition and hookiness is similar to “Oblivion”, and while I like their three-part wails, something about it pisses me off. I wish I could give you a better explanation.

“Creature Lives” sounds like Pink Floyd‘s famous ‘laughing lunatic‘ hanging out at Steve Miller Band‘s “Threshold” for the first minute or so. I also get a light Beatles vibe from the infrequently-referenced ‘octopus’ in “Octopus Has No Friends” to the phrase “All the love I make / Is equal to the love I take” in the title track (which I don’t wanna slam too much, as it—and the album as a whole—is dedicated to Brent Hinds’s deceased brother, Brad).

But here’s the rub, dudes: everything afterward dusts. The aforementioned “Spectrelight” is blindingly well-executed, and honestly, may be my favorite Kelly collaboration. “Bedazzled Fingernails” was the biggest surprise, as I expected to hate it, based ignorantly on name alone—however, both it and “The Sparrow” have the finest harmonies on The Hunter. At 5m30s, the latter is most expansive, though the lyrics are conversely minimal; only the single, near-mantric line “Pursue happiness with diligence” pulses past. Further, the bonus tracks are strong, “Deathbound” more so, especially considering the utterly awesome video that goes with it. If you like carnage in puppet form, as I do, just try to tear yourself away from the sickness below.

The only (arguable) obstacle is live reproduction, though Mastodon have been diligently converting crowds for over a decade now and keep getting, dare I say, sweeter. Not the colloquial Urban Dictionary definition; they’re going easier on your ears. Sweetness is what the ‘don potentially has over the ‘vod—they just have this breaking-in period, like a good pair of boots, but are ultimately worth the investment. And this is how they expand their embrace beyond beloved Voivod: popular appeal. There is a reason Mastodon is positively mentioned in the same sentences as Foo FightersQOTSA, Deftones, Tool. By all accounts, they are also heading upward, but to hang in those ranks you need confident clean(er) vocals. Make no mistake, I still stand behind them (maybe a few steps back this time). Regardless, what truly excites me above all else is the perfect-album-to-be in their destined futuretheir Nothingface, if you will.

FCC: 3 (my version was clean, though)
Try: 1, 4, 5, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15

01. Black Tongue
02. Curl Of The Burl
03. Blasteroid
04. Stargasm
05. Octopus Has No Friends
06. All The Heavy Lifting
07. The Hunter
08. Dry Bone Valley
09. Thickening
10. Creature Lives
11. Spectrelight
12. Bedazzled Fingernails
13. The Sparrow
14. The Ruiner (limited-edition bonus track)
15. Deathbound (limited-edition bonus track)

~MetalMattLongo

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