There’s a new Mastodon record. It’s called The Hunter. Let’s really dig into what that means to the world of music. Damn if I know. The Hunter has pretty much thrown everything I thought I knew about Mastodon out the window and the band has arrived at the a status usually reserved for bands like Neurosis or Eyehategod. Don’t get me wrong, Mastodon hasn’t risen to that level of greatness yet, but they will, trust me. What we have here with The Hunter are thirteen tracks of Mastodon taking their own rulebook and lighting it on fire. All of their past endeavors have lead to this moment. The concepts, the prog, the genre-changing metal, the off the wall techniques, everything has it’s place on The Hunter while at the same time Mastodon just decide to go right off the map.
Usually figuring out a band’s album, no matter how good, isn’t difficult. The sounds are the same, they coalesce into a streamlined idea that’s executed well or executed poorly depending on the group. Mastodon kicks off The Hunter with “Black Tongue”, a song that sounds like their Blood Mountain/Crack The Skye selves at work. I say to myself, okay this is how it’s going to play out, that’s fine. “Black Tongue” is a big, thick, oppressive metal jam that attacks like a behemoth rising from the ocean to lay waste to humanity. I get that; it’s a Mastodon signature sound of heavy destruction. Wait though, hold the phone, because next up is “Curl The Burl” and now I have no fucking clue what’s going on. Wasn’t this just big metal riffs? Why suddenly am I listening to Fu Manchu’s bastard child with Deep Purple? Where did this insane boogie-oogie groove come from? The vocals are clean and huge, epic arena get-down vocals that bring to mind Zeppelin in their vast power (not their sound).
Okay, so the first song was a fake out. Now it’s time to lay down the seventies super-rock groove. I get it. I’m on board. Except now I’m listening to a high rocktane fast paced quick jam titled “Blasteroid” that gallops like a thousand black horses from Satan, yet seamlessly blends in these extreme music scream vocals. That shouldn’t work, but it does, why? Oh, right, Mastodon. Did you want a little Yes in your metal gumbo? Not a problem, that’s why the song “Stargasm” exists.
This is the feeling that continues throughout The Hunter. You’re kept off balance by the bizarre nature of what’s going on. Whether on purpose or by accident, Mastodon have created an album with no sense of direction that makes total sense and completely works within their catalog. How do you do that? I have no idea and at this point I don’t really care. The wicked trippy gumbo is tasty and I want seconds, thirds, fourths, ah screw it, just hand me a spoon.
Let’s be clear on one thing. I am not one of the many Mastodon soldiers in the music world. I was not a huge fan of Leviathan and I didn’t love Blood Mountain. Crack The Skye is what brought me back to the Mastodon camp, but even that was a ways after it was released. Regardless, I liked that Mastodon always had the sack to say to critical bastards like me and fans that weren’t down for the ride that this was their show and they’d run it any way they wanted to. That’s what puts them in the same league with Neurosis, Eyehategod and other bands that have set the precedent in underground music. Hunter S Thompson and George Carlin always said “Buy the ticket, take the ride”. That’s how Mastodon approach what they do.
Nothing on The Hunter is filler, which is rare in modern music. The title track is glorious, an absolutely beautiful song crafted with an ear towards psychedelic space rock. The song actually moves and breathes, rolling through peeks and valleys that bring on feelings of contented absence. Shut off the lights, turn off your eyes and just float in the title track, it’s like a sensory deprivation tank via guitars and drums. Every song on The Hunter takes parts of what the band has done in the past and stitches them into this new fabric.
One of my favorite tracks on the record is “The Creature Lives”. Mastodon begins this opus with a minute and fifteen seconds of noise, feedback and laughter. The bass comes in, then the drums and then starts a song I can scarcely begin to describe. The story of a swamp creature told through echoes and narrative vocals swathed around a creepy backing chorus. If ever there was a theme song for The Legend Of Boggy Creek, this is the one! I also must give props to “Spectrelight” featuring Scott Kelly from Neurosis. Anybody who thinks all the weirdness prevents Mastodon from bringing the metal. Listen to this song and then shut up.
The personnel behind the Mastodon machine are playing at their absolute top game. Brent Hinds’ guitar work here is stunning as is his sound. The riffs are thick but crisp, heavy but with actual weight to them, not just heavy for heavy sake. Combine that with Bill Kelliher’s guitars and suddenly you have a team that will knock anybody back. Think you’re band is jamming on some prog work? Come run it up Brent Hinds tree and see what you think then. I love the vocals as well, from the clean to the screaming to the actual singing. Some of what’s happening here is beautiful.
One of my favorite things about Mastodon is that they don’t forget the bass. Troy Sanders sound is that of an etched slice of steel hammering down on the head of a nail setting off a nuclear explosion. The bass is sludgy here, crisp there, Sanders constantly moves around to complete the song. You hear that metal bands? The bassist completes the song. Remember that. Let’s talk for a second about Brann Dailor; a drummer of such gifts there’s yet to be a mechanism to deal with them. I fully believe he’s a stream of consciousness drummer, the percussion answer to William Burroughs. Nothing sounds planned, everything is so in the moment that it’s hard to comprehend what Dailor is doing. How he plays such complex structures without sounding busy and still giving us the groove is beyond me. I don’t want to know; the mystery is way more exciting.
So there it is. The Hunter. The new Mastodon album that will set fire to the Universe again and burn these guys into the walls of rock history forever. Not everybody will love it, but everybody should. I remember a line Glenn Branca said about Patti Smith “This is rock I had been dreaming of my whole life.” That’s pretty much how I feel about The Hunter. Wake up other albums of 2011, the #1 odds on favorite for album of the year has just broken down the walls.
CRAVEONLINE RATING 10/10