Review Summary: How exactly does a band supplant old for new, or prog for succinct? They simply don’t.
Fifth album in, a new type face, a new surrealist animal depiction on the cover - Mastodon must mean business. But step back a little, keeping in mind that they are just a band with a trove of ruffled scales and cool drum fills (oh, and a banjo) and you’ll find that The Hunter
is no more a conception than anything they’ve ever done before, really. It’s subsequently a surprise in passing that the adoration for this album comes from a “new-founded” form and a “new direction”. But where does this originate, given that The Hunter really sounds like just an abridged adaptation of Crack the Skye
upon a first listen; its tone, form and style all reek of b-side fodder from 2009. The Dailor rhythm division, together with Hinds’ unique twang is omnipresent as always, as is the casual allusions to Animalia – so what’s the deal? Upon a closer, perhaps more thorough inspection, The Hunter does indeed reveal a diverse, less-disjointed beast, but not as transparently many have so far alleged.
Instead Mastodon presents an altered permutation of favouring thoughts established around a characteristic usage of clean vocals. Songs like “Stargasm”, “The Hunter” and “Dry Bone Valley” exemplify this, each with their own driven vocal harmonies, subtended by archetypal Mastodon riffage. In comparison, “Creature Lives” with a Moog intro reminiscent of Pink Floyd
’s escapism, recruits Dailor’s and his unforeseen vocal abilities alongside moody leads and power chords. And finally, “The Sparrow” which is flanked by distant Between the Buried and Me
vocalisations, beautiful chord movements, and a commanding mid-section, is easily one of the year’s most luminous closers, and the best the band have fashioned thus far.
So with all this, it’s apparent that the album’s accomplishment is the cliché love story of how a band discovers how to mingle with cleans. It’s managing to further entice these developments with equally engaging instrumentation that is the true revelation. The material together offers a collective breath of fresh air into Mastodon’s dangerously-close-to-convoluted-wankery tendencies, which made Crack the Skye a borderline crossover for some, and Opeth
’s mid-term-sludge-cousin for others. Nevertheless, there aren’t many groups who can claim success following digression from a tailored prog-fest to their elementary origins; in this instance Mastodon answer the uncertainties by striding the contours between the best of both worlds. Whenever they’re not being recursive around the edges, they’re unquestionably nailing it.