MASTODON — The Hunter (review)

MASTODON — The Hunter album cover Album · 2011 · Progressive Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
As a reviewer I think that every so often there comes a time when you feel you’ve given an album a fair go, reviewed it and then later had to go back and revise your opinion. Most times this will be years down the track and suddenly you realise a release wasn’t really as good or as bad as it may have seemed at the time. That isn’t quite the case with me with The Hunter, which is the fifth studio release from the ever-changing US progressive sludge metal band Mastodon, as I’m revising this existing review in the closing days of 2011, the year of the album’s release. The Hunter, being a release from a band that I have followed since their second album Leviathan (2004), was always going to be getting more after review listens than most of the albums I get for review, especially since on my original review I found it an exceptional release. Many listens down the track now, and a couple of months since the review was published I find myself thinking that at a score of 8.8/10 I’d misjudged the album. So now I find myself compelled to return to my review, something that doesn’t happen often, and give it something of an update. We begin proper now.

The Hunter is no exception to Mastodon standard in that it has a very different feel to it to their previous releases, especially their previous album, 2009’s Crack the Skye, while still being unmistakeably the work of the band. The Hunter is full of eyebrow raising track names such as Octopus Has No Friends, All the Heavy Lifting and Bedazzled Fingernails, and contains many of Mastodon’s weirdest compositions to date. It also sees drummer Brann Dailor handling some lead vocals again, like he did on Crack the Skye’s opener Oblivion. He gets to sing a full song this time, the quirky Creature Lives.

Compared to Crack the Skye, The Hunter’s tracks are generally shorter with only the title track and closer The Sparrow passing the five minute mark. Naturally this means there’s also a lot more of them than on Crack the Skye, thirteen in all. Despite this, and also despite the fact that Crack the Skye is widely seen as Mastodon’s most progressive release, I actually think the progressive sounds on The Hunter are actually much more common, if less obvious than on Crack the Skye, the only track from which I felt was truly progressive being The Last Baron. On The Hunter we’ve got progressive sounds in several places, although it’s the second half of the album that is the most progressive, since the first three tracks in particular are riff based affairs, short and to the point. A couple of parts later in the album are firmly in spacey territory though, with obvious influence from Pink Floyd. For the most part though The Hunter is still best considered a sludge metal album since most of the tracks here are very riff based, in fact All the Heavy Lifting should probably be renamed as All the Heavy Riffing. Coincidently I think that this is the best track on the album. The track gives new meaning to the term ‘huge chorus’ and is one of the best tracks Mastodon has ever recorded. The album also goes into Stoner Metal territory, particularly with Curl of the Burl, a track seemingly about the murder of a goat.

Vocally Mastodon once again sticks to mostly clean vocals. There’s a bit of their old screaming style from Brent Hinds in Blasteroid and Scott Kelly of Neurosis also provides some harsher vocals in his traditional guest slot during Spectrelight, but otherwise the vocals from Brent, Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor remain in the same vein as Crack the Skye. This is most definitely a good thing as Brent and Troy both have stronger clean vocals, and if there was ever a problem with Mastodon’s earliest releases, it was the vocals, even though they were fitting to the sludge metal style. It’s also nice to hear more vocals from Brann, and although he’s still the minority vocal contributor on The Hunter of Mastodon’s three lead vocalists, he provides a high quality performance that makes me wish he sang even more on the album.

The Hunter is most certainly another high quality release from Mastodon with plenty of great tracks and much variation between them. It’s their most varied album really, forming a nice stylistic bridge between albums as Remission and Leviathan with Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye. It has a great mix of heavy riffing and progressive atmospherics and is most definitely an album that every Mastodon fan should be adding to their collection, and I also suspect that fans of a wide range of metal and rock genres will find something to like on The Hunter. As far as I’m concerned it tops everything the band has done so far to become their best album yet. It is absolutely essential, so go get it, and pursue happiness with diligence.
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