Review Summary: I'm not exactly sure what a Stargasm is, but I'm pretty sure I just had one.
Well, they’ve finally done it: Mastodon have created the album they were destined to make. It was bound to happen, really; they’ve always hinted at having excellent songwriting abilities behind their almost incessant need to show you they can shred. No, there’s no cysquatches or tales of retrieving Rasputin’s staff or white whales or whatever the hell prog-nonsense their last few albums have been about. Instead, you’ll find a band finally hitting their stride with memorable hooks, killer riffs, and vocals that don’t sound like a sped-up, talking Kermit the frog stuffed animal.
It seems almost ironic that Mastodon’s first non-concept album also happens to be their most cohesive offering. Blood Mountain, frankly, was too weird for its own good. Over time, it was hard to care about the ‘story’ or the riffs over the ridiculous effects of bleeps and bloops as our hero descended into madness (probably). Crack The Skye found Mastodon fully embracing their prog tendencies, but managed to be too much of a ‘good thing with little to no restraint. Plus, it was pretty ***ing weird. I’ll admit that I’m probably in the minority when I say that Leviathan never really did anything for me, so there’s that too.
The Hunter finds Mastodon integrating all of the ideas from their past efforts into a (wait for it)...tasteful package. For one, there’s far less bullshtt this time around. Right from the get go, “Black Tongue” opens the album up with some killer riff work that manages to hit the mark on being both heavy and technical, something Mastodon have faltered with in the past. No pretension, no long interludes or introductions, just heavy as balls riffage. And really, from there on out, the band fires on all cylinders, hitting marks you wouldn’t expect them to. “Blasteroids” is Mastodon doing their best Torche impression and possibly even one-upping them in the process, while ‘Creature Lives’ turns out to be the feel-good, Pink Floyd-esque tale of a creature complete with group “ahhhh’s” that everyone's always wanted. Yeah, it’s safe to say that Mastodon are still weird. The difference here is that there’s no feeling of ‘THIS IS A JOKE...but we’re kind of serious” that have plagued their past few releases. This time, it’s easy to smile and almost laugh at how awesome a song called “Bedazzled Fingernails” is because the song, well, kicks ASS (and also happens to be a personal favorite)!
It’s not all new territory, however. The title track wouldn’t be out of place on their previous album (or a reeally weird Beatles B-Side) and “All The Heavy Lifting” would certainly fit in nicely on Blood Mountain. The reason these songs work so well is because of the different context; whereas they would’ve sounded tired and repetitive on those respective albums, Mastodon manage to cram those albums’ ideas, albeit refined, into neat little packages that serve as an enhanced retrospective to their past work. Those disappointed at the lack of heavy on Crack the Skye will be delighted to hear ball-busters like "Spectrelight" that will surely become a concert staple.
It’s worth noting that the production is pretty damn perfect. The bass POPS here and it really does make all the difference in holding down the lower end. This is especially necessary considering that it feels as if the guitars are dancing around their frets more so than on past releases. The drums are killer as always, but scaled back a tad so the rhythm syncs better than on, say, Blood Mountain. All of these elements combine to create a sound that is both technical, yet restrained. We know Mastodon can shred, and now they seem to know that too. With that out of the way, the Masto-dudes have finally gotten around to writing songs without the fat and solos that aren't some sort of inside joke. The fact that Mastodon have managed to cram one hell of a hook into nearly every song with all this technicality going on is all the better.
The Hunter certainly isn’t perfect, it ends on a somewhat lackluster note with “The Sparrow” and the middle section has a notable drop in quality compared to the rest, but who wanted Mastodon to be perfect anyway? The Hunter breathes new life into a band that was getting high on their own supply for too long and we’re the ones reaping all the benefits. With a stripped down sound with more hooks than in that one episode of Spongebob, Mastodon have truly been able to integrate all of their sonic experiments into one hell of a package that should make plenty of those year-end lists. Get your beer and smoke your weed, it’s hunting season.