18 Oct 2011

Album Review: MASTODON - "The Hunter"

Coolest whittling project ever
4 out of 5

The fifth full-length album from sludge/alternative/progressive metal gods Mastodon, The Hunter explores new territories while still bringing the passion and intensity they've always been known for.  Unlike the ever increasing prog-metal showcases of their previous albums, here they set out to produce a "super-heavy Led Zeppelin" album filled with riffs and songs that are easier to digest.  As a result of this recipe change, they created an a hard rock album reminiscent of the fantastic Queens Of The Stone Age - and trust me, that's a very good thing.

The main difference between The Hunter and previous albums is a focus on VOCALS.  With four well-executed albums under their belts, the members of Mastodon already proved they can play their guitars and drums, and very well I may add, but the vocals always took a secondary position.  With each new album the vocals evolved from guttural and unintelligible all the way to the clean and understandable singing of this latest venture and I believe they want the audience to realize that transition.  Singing along with a Mastodon song?  There's no better example than 'Curl Of The Burl,' their most radio-friendly song yet (they even performed it on Letterman).  Listen to the focused harmonies of 'Blasteroid,' I don't remember a song with that kind of harmony over drums pounding that ferociously before.  By no means are the guys singing like Mariah or Usher on songs, but definitively more effort is being projected from their voice-boxes.      

The album comes out the gate strong with the ominous Black Sabbath-esque riff that dominates 'Black Tongue' and the intensity continues until they slow it down in the middle of the album starting with the hilariously named 'Stargasm.'  From tracks 4 to 9, the album reverts back to the sounds of Crack The Skye and its slow to mid tempos where the songs focus more on an eerie atmosphere than intensity.  Personally, I prefer Mastodon's intense songs over their atmospheric ones so to me, too much of the album is wasted on this and so the album loses points for that.  'Creature Lives' is a mess and the worst Mastodon song I've ever heard.  For that song alone the album's score loses half a point.  Luckily, the album picks up again on the amazing 'Spectrelight,' which may be my new favourite Mastodon song, and from there the album finishes strong (it's okay to end an album with a slow song).

Mastodon always creates an album with a vision in mind.  Songs in their debut Remission (2002) were loosely based on 'fire', Leviathan (2004) was based on the novel Moby-Dick, Blood Mountain (2006) was about being stranded on a mountain and struggling to survive among the hallucinations, and Crack The Skye (2009) was about out-of-body experiences that leads a man to go back in time where his soul gets put inside the body of Rasputin while he attempts to usurp the czar .  As you can tell, Mastodon isn't your run-of-the-mill metal band.  Unlike the previous albums, The Hunter does not have an overall story or even have an elemental focus (i.e. fire, water, earth, wind), but I believe they purposely did it to show the world they don't have to.  It is a showcase to the world that their songs can stand alone and don't need to be coddled within an over-arching plot.  Story or not, the album is well put together and it is best to listen to it in the order they set out.

As a proud fan of Mastodon, I would liken the band to be the Metallica for the 2000's.  At the beginning of their major label careers, both bands released albums that got increasingly more progressive.  Metallica's eponymous fifth album Metallica (also known as The Black Album) changed their style up with more radio-friendly tunes that were slower in tempo but maintained the attitude of their previous work - The Hunter is Mastodon's Black Album.  Hopefully, Mastodon's new album can expand their audience like the boon Black Album was for Metallica. 

I love Mastodon; one of the most interesting metal outfits to come out in a long time and The Hunter is their fantastic attempt to expand their impressive catalog.  Right now, I would rank Mastodon's albums from most to least favourite as: Leviathan, Remission, The Hunter, Blood Mountain, then Crack The Skye, but all are excellent and ANY of their albums are superior to many of the short-sighted and creatively bankrupt metal bands out there now.

Other recommended tracks: 
'Curl Of The Burl'
Curl Of The Burl by mastodonrocks

03 Blasteroid by susanh

'Bedazzled Fingernails'
12 Bedazzled Fingernails by susanh

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