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Mastodon - The Hunter
on 26 September 2011
The year is 2011 and Mastodon have released their fifth full-length studio album The Hunter; an album which has the completely unenviable task of having to follow up the band's previous album Crack The Skye from 2009, which was a bold and defining moment in the band's career that deservedly won the band a wider audience and that cemented many new fanships worldwide.
When the band announced that unlike their previous three albums, the album would not be a concept album and furthermore they were using both a different producer and even a different artist to handle the album artwork, many feared that the band might be deliberately trying to distance themselves from the style we have all come to love; luckily that is not entirely the case, they only wanted to make the album fresh and original while still managing to retain much of the signature Mastodon sound.
Opening with the storming pair of pre-released track `Black Tongue' and lead single `Curl Of The Burl,' the album is magnificent from the get-go. Rather than attempt to outdo Crack The Skye in terms of progression, Mastodon have completely shifted their focus to other elements within their sound and expanded on those. The Hunter is direct and immediate, seeing more straight-forward song structures, cleaner vocals and steadier beats than any album in their esteemed career, even the guitar and bass sounds are the cleanest and least sludgey on any Mastodon record to date.
For many fans; the words `straight forward,' and `steady beats,' may seem troublesome when used in conjunction with Mastodon. Especially if like me, you got into the band for their complexity and astounding virtuoso musicianship particularly in the drumming department.
Indeed, some listeners who prefer Mastodon's Sludge influenced sound may be very surprised with tracks like `Blasteroid' or `Dry Bone Valley.' Rather than lash out immediately however, everyone should give The Hunter a fair few listens before making up their minds, after all what people need to remember is that as far back as 2004's `Naked Burn' they have been hinting at this sort of thing, now it has just become much more prominent.
Even to assuage fears, it cannot be said that The Hunter is a return to the hardest and most complex territory the band have ever explored. The songs fire ahead with force and power, but are almost all filled with big melodic choruses and driving guitar lines. Just feel safe in the knowledge that the album is not truly a grand departure either; everything still very much sounds instantly recognizable as Mastodon, even if you do have to wait longer between drum fills than on other albums.
Keyboards, structural complexity and the proggier elements found on 2009's Crack The Skye or the 2010 Jonah Hex: Revenge Gets Ugly Soundtrack EP do return on a few occasions especially on the later half of The Hunter too, such as one the wonderful brooding Title Track and `The Sparrow,' both of which have that Brent Hinds penned arpeggio feel, as well as the Josh Homme influenced `Thickening,' and the very unique `Creature Lives,' all of which helps bridge the gap between back then and now rather well.
For yet more similarities with older material, (as with all the band's studio albums barring their debut) Scott Kelly of Neurosis makes a guest vocal appearance, doing a fine job as usual this time on the up-tempo `Spectrelight.'
Ignoring musical direction, the actual performances and musicianship are utterly spectacular. The vocals (now featuring even more from Brann Dailor) from all parties involved have never ever sounded so good and their skill and talent has improved remarkably, in addition to the guitar solos which are some of the most evocative and emotive sounding leads the band have ever produced.
As performers the band have taken things to a whole other level with The Hunter; the songs are fantastic, no arguments whatsoever can be made with the production and overall The Hunter is simply a hands down good album and a real grower too. If you like Mastodon then ensure that you get yourself a copy, you will likely not regret it.
*** If you should buy the special edition with the DVD, be aware unless you pick up the correct edition, unlike the band's previous two DVD editions, there is no Making-Of documentary to be had.
The version I got from Amazon does feature a 6-minute Making-Of and 18-Minute Track-By-Track interview with Brann Dailor providing sometimes amusing and sometimes informative background information on the album's tracks, be it in lyrical meanings or playing styles.
Instead there are two music videos (for `Black Tongue,' and `Deathbound,') as well as a `Psychedelic Visualizer,' for the song 'Stargasm' that shows interesting imagery on screen along with the album (if you don't understand just look on youtube) and finally an Augmented Reality experience that works in conjunction with the band's official website and with your webcam to place the album art head on your shoulders for video and photo sessions in the web browser which also has Facebook connectivity etc. This requires a 5.6MB file download, acquired upon initial launch.
This DVD is in addition to the alternative packaging that fits in more with previous Mastodon artwork styles and in some cases two bonus tracks, `The Ruiner,' and `Deathbound' which are only acquired digitally once you have the direct-to-fan edition of album, from the band's official website or mp3 sites like iTunes store. ***