Review Summary: Masto-pop? You bet your ass.
Consistently thriving on innovation and never making the same album twice, Mastodon has traced a musical lineage akin to the process of evolution. The first exercise (Remission) was primal brutality, the soundtrack to cavemen hunting mammoths with only a knife in their teeth and manically crazed looks in their eyes. From this inception Mastodon matured as they evolved, with additional layers of experimentation and concepts building upon each other, offsetting the emergence of complex patterns with rare repetition. In their growth, Mastodon has built a grand fortress of metal held aloft by four distinct yet nearly equally strong pillars. If their discography is indeed the construction of this conceptual pantheon, “The Hunter” is the unannounced meteorite blasting from the sky, metaphorically leveling this body of work in complete devastation and brilliantly merging its elements together in the rebuilding process.
Like the Colossus of Rhodes coming to life, “The Hunter” is a fully evolved creature, representing the inevitable beauty of any archetype that overcomes the devastation of itself or its very ideals. The process of this evolution requires the previous elements of strength remain through the growth structure, and in the case of Mastodon their greatest weapon has always been musicianship. Mastodon remain fully armed with their greatest weapons, the guitars are still on fire and the drumming is still absolutely cataclysmic, but “The Hunter” finds them mastering the concept of songwriting, an elusive beast that has previously escaped them. Merging advanced songwriting skills with overpowering musicianship is rarified air in music, and is even more pronounced in metal. The final evolutionary step for any group that purports to greatness is merging these two elements in an explosively engaging package. Even the greats can only grasp it for a short period of time, and now that Mastodon has fully emerged we might as well embrace it as its fragility is tangible and proven.
If there is a definable pillar or structure to “The Hunter,” its probably schizophrenic chaos as there is absolutely no distinct formula on display here. Weaving elements of entirely divergent influences are pieced together only by the engagement of sky-high atmospherics and massive, memorable choruses. “The Hunter” seems intrinsically designed to keep the listener off-balance and draw them in simultaneously. The roaring power of “Spectrelight” and “Blasteroid” are in direct opposition to the gentle, almost Pink Floyd esque “Creature Lives” and the gorgeously dreary title track. The doomsday laced “Black Tongue” and powerful Sabbath/Kyuss hybrid “Curl of the Burl” at first seem entirely out of place with the ethereal trio of “Stargasm,” “Octopus Has No Friends,” and “All The Heavy Lifting,” a combination fitting for the blastoff, atmospheric emergence, and gravity-free space gliding odyssey of a space shuttle. This trio is the logical epicenter of "The Hunter," it's where the most obvious new ground has been broken and where Mastodon's newfound sense of melody is the most trenchant. Throughout most of "The Hunter" Mastodon is hitting on revolving cylinders of experimentation, escaping filler, and proving the result is more important than the method, embracing focus disguised as chaos.
“The Hunter” is not pop in the traditional sense, but for the aggressively tattooed, proudly bearded, horse-worshipping, whale-destroying dudes of Mastodon, it’s probably as close as they’re ever going to get. Entirely devoid of structure, any grandiose over-reaching metaphorical concept, or the dangerous delvings of pretentiousness we saw on “Crack the Skye,” “The Hunter” is held aloft by the quintessential pillars of engaging, riveting atmospherics. Brilliantly melding catchiness with the credibility automatically earned through their almost peerless chops, Mastodon has finally reached the apex of their abilities. It’s clear through the sheer diversity of their catalog they were searching for the grail, and this time they finally found it. The metaphorical archetype of Mastodon has always been a Behemoth, the creature or concept that is difficult to find and almost impossible to battle. Right from the beginning, they asked where it strode. The answer is right Goddamn here.