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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Mastodon recorded their first demo in June 2000 and played numerous dates with bands as far ranging as Cannibal Corpse, Queens Of The Stone Age and Morbid Angel. The crushing demo and powerful live shows earned them a record deal with Relapse records, and in August the band released its debut EP Lifesblood
. Technically complex, rhythmically pummeling and instilled with groove, the disc earned Mastodon a loyal following even if it didn’t exactly pay the rent. In October 2001, Mastodon entered the studio with producer Matt Bayles to record their full-length debut, Remission
, a striking blend of stoner metal, hardcore, prog-rock and, southern rock taht set the metal world ablaze. But it was the raging turmoil and pulverizing elegance of 2004’s Leviathan
, again recorded with Bayles, that made Mastodon one of the most lauded new groups.
2006’s Blood Mountain
was surreal, progressive and unflinchingly heavy. Mastodon crafted an album that’s musically sophisticated yet primal, a disc where every new passage, regardless of how slow or fast, leads to the culmination of an epic adventure. And the diversity is astonishing. “Capillarian Crest” alternates between jazzy tendrils and moshpit-rattling ferocity, sounding like a fierce amalgam of Motorhead, King Crimson and Rush, “Hunters Of The Sky” is a surging, off-kilter race with drums s tumultuous as Keith Moon and “Pendulous Skin” is expansive and celestial, with guitars reminiscent at times of Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. However, it was 2009’s Crack The Skye
album that bought all those prog rock influences crashing to the service.
Produced by Mike Elizondo (Avenged Sevenfold), Mastodon’s 5th full-length album The Hunter
marks a return to the raw, fast-paced sound of old, eschewing the psychedelic path of it’s predecessor. Lyrically the album pays tribute to guitarist Brent Hinds’s older brother--a lifelong hunter--who tragically passed away last year.