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Mastodon - "The Hunter" (CD)

Mastodon - "The Hunter" CD cover image

"The Hunter" track listing:

1. Black Tongue (3:26)
2. Curl of the Burl (3:40)
3. Blasteroid (2:35)
4. Stargasm (4:40)
5. Octopus Has No Friends (3:49)
6. All the Heavy Lifting (4:31)
7. The Hunter (5:18)
8. Dry Bone Valley (4:00)
9. Thickening (4:31)
10. Creature Lives (4:41)
11. Spectrelight (3:10)
12. Bedazzled Fingernails (3:08)
13. The Sparrow (5:32)

Reviewed by on September 29, 2011

"After recording three of the best metal albums of all time in a row, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mastodon deciding to chill out and write a simple, straightforward and accessible ass-kicker."

After the sheer amount of positive press that “Crack the Skye” got, I never thought that I'd see Mastodon return to the sound of “Blood Mountain.” So for the second time in a row, I found myself having an uncomfortable knee-jerk reaction to a Mastodon album. Yet, “The Hunter” is still an amazing album; not nearly as heavy as “Blood Mountain,” but still a worthy addition to Mastodon's discography.

While returning to an older sound is a risk for any band, Mastodon manages to do it well by ensuring that “The Hunter” has enough subtle differences to set it apart from the band's earlier work. This is mainly with the more prevalent use of clean vocals and guitar solos, both of which seem to have more to do with the the band members progressing as musicians than an attempt to be more commercial. “The Hunter” really shows how Mastodon has grown as a band over the past decade. Troy Sanders now takes the mic just as much as Brent Hinds, who has now become an exceptional lead guitarist, and Brann Dailor delivers his most technical and unrestrained performance since “Leviathan.”

"The Hunter” takes a lot of risks. “The Hunter” is Mastodon's first real album since “Remission” to not follow any particular story. The songs are less progressive and follow more traditional song structures, while harsh vocals are used a lot less than on previous albums. Then again, if any band has earned a right to make these kinds of changes, it's Mastodon. The members have proven since 2002 that they can do no wrong no matter what they do, even if things are a bit simpler this time around.

Most bands can't write songs like “Dry Bone Valley” and “Curl of the Burl,” and even if they tried, metal fans would instantly decry the band as sellouts. The former isn't going to leave the band's setlist anytime soon, since it's on par with “Blood and Thunder” and “The Last Baron” in terms of Mastodon's most memorable songs. Moreover, the production lacks the same power that this kind of music needs and comes across as sounding a bit more like hard rock than metal at times due to the thin, clear sound.

For all that Mastodon have done right, that just makes the flaws much more painful. In particular, “Creature Lives,” which is Mastodon's disastrous attempt at light rock, is just as bad as it sounds. The song plods along, does nothing interesting and goes nowhere. While a handful of tracks on "Remission" were forgettable, “Creature Lives” is the first Mastodon song that I found intolerable to listen to, even if the other 12 songs are every bit as amazing as Mastodon's past material.

While “The Hunter” may not be the second coming of “Crack the Skye,” which is what everyone was expecting, it's still a great album in its own right, despite losing the progressive edge that Mastodon was known for in the past. After recording three of the best metal albums of all time in a row, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mastodon deciding to chill out and write a simple, straightforward and accessible ass-kicker.

“The Hunter” is the sound of a band who set out to conquer the world post-victory and will certainly be one of the most controversial and talked-about albums of the year. Mastodon has earned the right to do whatever they want and they're going to take you along for the ride. While it's Mastodon's weakest album to date, that's not a criticism of “The Hunter,” but a sign of how high the bar was set for Mastodon. It's still a victory for the band, albeit a small, if not Pyrrhic, one.

Highs: Improved vocals and musicianship, some of the best songs that I've heard all year long regardless of genre, “Dry Bone Valley”

Lows: Not every song is a winner, production lacks power, completely abandons the sound of “Crack the Skye,” simple songwriting compared to previous albums

Bottom line: A baffling, yet welcome, return to form for Mastodon.

Rated 4.0 out of 5 skulls
4.0 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)