When Mastodon announced that this album was to be free of concept and more of a straight-up rock album, one or two eyebrows may well have been raised, although given the band’s dabbling in ZZ Top, Thin Lizzy and Melvins worship it may not have been entirely surprising. Still, a Mastodon making a record not based on the elements is certainly an enterprising one, and for the band that Time magazine voted their number 3 album of the year (2009’s ‘Crack The Skye‘), this meeting the mainstream in the middle has come about at roughly the right time.
That said, their past sound has far from been forgotten – opener Black Tongue rips into life in much the same way as past Mastodon openers – but nor has their present sound been allowed to stagnate, as evident in ‘Curl of the Burl’, probably one of the best singles all year. Underpinned by a sweet bass-driven riff, you can feel every groove in the song, and the chorus is instantly recognizable. It should come with a warning sticker as it may make you shake in numerous ways! The new found melodicism continues on ‘Blasteroid’, a distincting different Mastodon continues to stamp its new found presence with dual-harmony verses from guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds and bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders, albeit soon swiped away with the howl of ‘I wanna taste your fucking blood!‘ in the chorus.
Mastodon have always been capable of providing real WTF moments, on this occasion the brilliant ‘Creature Lives’, with an intro consisting of maniacal laughter before turning into perhaps Mastodon’s happiest sounding song yet. Entirely sung, written, composed etc. by drummer Brann Dailor, it’s a triumphant moment and perhaps one of the most uplifting songs you’ll hear all year, albeit slightly bonkers as well. They follow this up with ‘Spectrelight’, a punchier number and harks back to ‘Leviathan‘ territory. Its still got the accentuated melodicism present on the majority of the album, but rampages delightfully throughout its three minutes.
The album finishes with yet another incredible track, ‘The Sparrow’. Dedicated to the band’s accountant, who passed away to stomach cancer during the recording of the album, the song’s only line utters her motto: ‘pursue happiness, with diligence’. Its a sombre but beautiful way to end ‘The Hunter‘, and that line will echo out beyond this record.
I was worried Mastodon may have dropped the ball when they said they were making a straight-up rock record as opposed to a concept album – they always excelled at befitting the story they’d mapped out and really didn’t feel confident in ‘The Hunter‘ meeting the lofty standards of their previous body of work. I’m glad to be proven wrong, although the goal has been achieved much differently this time. Having shunned the multi-part, ten-minute plus epics in favour of a more streamlined approach, it proves they’ve managed to switch over with the greatest of ease, even occasionally becoming dancable without sacrificing quality. And still, they managed to squeeze in plenty of elements of progression. Viewers of Later with Jools Holland – are you ready?