Few bands have been more consistently awe inspiring than Mastodon. Over the course of ten years and four albums Atlanta’s finest progressive metal four-piece have astounded and inspired their fervent fan base in equal measure. With each passing album the band have expanded and progressed their core sound, raising the bar of expectation to a near unattainable heights.
2009’s Crack The Skye proved a pivotal release, it not only captivated metal circles with it’s masterful ten minute set piece “The Czar”, it began to crossover commercially, winning over both the unconverted and softer rock fans. The NME sat up and took notice, the record collectors at Uncut were wowed and the hipsters at Quietus came to the conclusion that Mastodon were the intelligent metal band that it was cool to like. And yet, while crossover fame seemed to beckon, Mastodon were still too big, too abrasive and frankly too daunting for the average listener, and the band were left teetering on the edge of superstardom.
Well if Crack The Skye was a tentative step towards stardom then The Hunter is a smash a grab raid. Every aspect of the band’s sound has been streamlined, beefed up, simplified (to an extent), and made remarkably accessible, but unlike other failed attempts at gaining traction with a broader fan base, Mastodon never lose their sense of self. The Hunter still feels epic, burley and mythical, all the calling cards of the band’s past are in place, distilled down into a leaner meaner formula, where tracks clock in at four minutes and not eight.
“Curl Of The Burl” is a crunching slap of majestic soaring riffage, built around strong anthemic hooks and addictive chants. “Blasteroid” would have the potential to raise some eyebrows were it not so insidiously catchy; with a fast, frenetic and frankly chaotic pace, it’s the closest Mastodon have come to sounding like a wailing post-hardcore outfit. The track even comes complete with a suitably melodramatic serpent’s hiss chorus cry: “I want to drink your fucking blood”.
Metal’s intellectual heavyweight, this ain’t, aptly named, The Hunter isn’t the sprawling, marvel in awe Mastodon of old, this is a relentless, lightening quick, predator; vicious and sleek. Fear not, there is still room for stargazing tranquillity, the chiming riffs of album centrepiece and title track “The Hunter” have a delicious OK Computer crash landed in the World Of Warcraft quality, and Mastodon set aside time for tonal exploration in the album’s second half.
Rhythm is very much the order of the day, and while the cascading riffs and squirrelly solos are ever present, it’s Brenn Dialor’s juddering and intensely satisfying mix of deft fills and double bass peddle bombast that truly steals the show. The grooves have a wonderful swashbuckling quality, so much so that “Bedazzled Fingernails” practically feels like an unruly rampage through the twilight zone.
The game is given away on the delightful, quasi-meditative, title track, when the band echo The Beatles enduring final endnote: “The love I make, is equal to the love I take”. While The Hunter is hardly Mastodon’s answer to Abbey Road, let alone A Hard Day’s Night, it remains a clear demonstration of the band’s pop sensibilities. A true tribute to Mastodon’s considerable craftsmanship, and proof that they can refine their fearsome technical skill and bottomless recesses of imagination down into a approachable, engaging and wholly satisfying pop product.
Similar to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon, The Hunter is not a retreat from intricacy of arrangement and complexity of thought, but instead, a firm embrace of clarity, purpose and immediacy.
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