It's the summer of 2007. This writer is in Norway for the inaugural Hove Festival alongside another journo who says, confidently, that he doesn't like metal after scanning the line-up and spying several riff-heavy acts. While it's true that many of these bands are missed, it takes one performance to have him reassessing his not-for-me standpoint on metal: Mastodon, then supporting their third LP Blood Mountain, blow everyone away.
The Atlanta four-piece, now on their fifth studio effort, have that effect on the listener - they're having such a great time that these thunderous songs can't fail to connect like a hammerblow. They might be bonkers of lyric, full of fantasy mumbo jumbo, but the band is unashamedly committed to its complex-of-composition craft, and the results have frequently stunned ever since their 2002 debut, Remission. They are the most ambitious, most fearless, most fun heavy metal band to have breached the mainstream since the genre oozed its way out of the Midlands in the 1970s.
The Hunter only furthers the band's impressive reputation for widening heavy metal's horizons. During its writing, bassist and vocalist Troy Sanders told the BBC that he was "ecstatic" about this album, and that he couldn't wait to record it. Drummer Brann Dailor told AOL that the record was "like a super-heavy Led Zeppelin". And both Sanders' zeal and his bandmate's succinct summarisation come through loud and clear across these 13 tracks. Anyone hoping that Mastodon would leave their proggy tendencies behind might be disappointed, though, as numerous numbers take turns for the unexpected. (The title-track, closer The Sparrow and The Creature Lives, in particular, are sure to summon images of the band clad in Rick Wakeman-style capes.) But fans of the band have become accustomed to these tangents, and it must be stressed that The Hunter plays things rather more straight-faced than its immediate predecessor, 2009's concept LP Crack the Skye.
Although The Hunter is actually a little longer than Crack the Skye, it's much leaner - the towering riffs of All the Heavy Lifting cut through cleanly, and the stoner-rock crunch of Curl of the Burl is mightily satisfying. At times the themes seem lifted straight from the swords and sorcery of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings; but one look at Mastodon surely makes it clear that these are not men of our time. They stand aside from fashion and the folly of passing trends, making music that appeals to their own scattershot minds. And they make it superbly loudly.
Yet, for all of its convention-eschewing oddness, their envelope-pushing material has struck a chord with many a listener. And The Hunter, with its monstrous choruses, powerful percussion and jaw-on-the-floor fret-work, is sure to connect with anyone who's previously rocked out to their wares just as easily as it will absolute beginners. Don't like metal? You might just love Mastodon.
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