Monday, October 10, 2011

Mastodon: The Hunter (2011)


Mastodon has been compared to Metallica over and over again. In terms of career paths and trajectory, the similarities are many. Both had the raw debut album embraced by the underground. Their sophomore efforts were polished, gaining the attention of critics outside metal. Third and fourth releases pushed the envelope even further toward thematically-heavy, highly complex material. Metallica's fifth album signalled a dramatic change of direction toward a more accessible, mainstream sound, and Mastodon have stated they wanted material that was more "fun". Is The Hunter the first step toward selling out?

For now, I'm going to withhold judgment on that score. But I will say this: Mastodon have put together the catchiest metal record of the year. It seems the Georgians have been listening to some Torche since their last full-length (check out "Blasteroid") and put some serious pop sensibility into the songwriting. The sound is Leviathan/Blood Mountain era (leaning toward the former), so it's interesting to see that decidedly pop songs can be so complex. It's also interesting that even when the stated intent is to get away from complex, difficult-to-play music, it's still firmly progressive.

This is Mastodon at their most accessible, but it's still not "fun" in the way you might think of Van Halen or, for that matter, Katy Perry. It's still pretty dark (see the title track) and heavy (see "Spectrelight"). "Curl of the Burl", which is perhaps my favorite song of the year, illustrates the point perfectly. To deal with subjects such as murder and an unfair/uncaring universe, they use the provincial, whimsical title phrase.

"Curl" is just the tip of the iceberg. Every song on here is catchy. And they hint a bit more at some of their influences, such as Pink Floyd ("The Sparrow") and Steve Miller Band ("Creature Lives").

The Verdict: I don't know where they go from here, and the similarities to Metallica's career arc are starting to scare me. On the other hand, the industry is different now, so I'm not sure there's much motivation for them to "sell out". For now, I'm just going to enjoy the hell out of The Hunter. It's an album of the year contender. I give it 5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Great review! Guess I'll have to check this one out, Bandcamp or no Bandcamp :-)

  2. Nice review. I am a fan of everything Mastodon has done. I think your worries are unfounded though; The Hunter is not the Black album.

    I chalk The Hunter up to Mastodon not wanting this piece of work to have to be so cohesive. Thinks about it. For 4 straight albums, they told a cohesive 60 minute long story, both lyrically and musically. The Hunter let them break free from that and just write, sing and play. I saw the Crack the Skye tour. At time during the first set where they played the whole album, they looked stressed to make it all work. Now they don;t have to do that. They can play whatever songs they want in whatever order they want.

    The Hunter doesn't deviate from their previous work musically, what's missing is that cohesive story that we have all gotten used to.

    Metallica changed their sound for the Balck album.

  3. You're probably right, and if this was a Black Album I probably wouldn't be giving it a perfect score--but the similarities are undeniably there.

  4. I can't put my finger on the exact reason why, but with each new release I find myself less and less interested in Mastodon. I still haven't heard The Hunter in its entirety, but the few tracks I listened to did nothing to break that trend.

    The rest of the metal world seems to be falling ever deeper in love with them, though, so maybe I just don't "get it". I certainly can't call them a BAD band in any case. Just not a band I particularly like.