Review Summary: The Hunter will some day be launched into space, and will be deemed responsible for billions of erections across the universe.
Until 2009's Crack The Skye, Mastodon's music was kept, for the most part, impersonal. You could look at Remission as a form of therapy for drummer Brann Dailor, who at the time had just lost his kid sister, but you would never think such a thing if, like me, you were too busy trying to comprehend the band's borderline morbid fascination with Joseph Merrick. Rather than inject lyrical content with personal experience as most bands do, Mastodon stuck to their one concept per album rule and ran with it for three releases. If you're reading this review you will know this formula has worked immensely well in the past. Finally, though, Mastodon releases an album, sans concept, that is still a brilliant throwback to a number of Mastodon's past achievements, while also managing to allow its 13 songs to each shine individually, rather than as a part of one greater being.
You could argue that because the band opted out of a concept (which they did have planned before realising it may be a tired formula 4th time around) they needed a much larger focus on personal content. This approach would have appealed to loads of the people who favourite Crack The Skye whilst alienating the many Remission/Leviathan elitists who think that Sludge can't be personal. But The Hunter is not really meant to be another sludge album, or another Remission, as is reflective in the level of ambition the album showcases. For tracks as bombastic and largely impersonal as "Blasteroids" the album needs tracks like "The Hunter" and "The Sparrow" to act as a kind of anchorage. The Hunter achieves a perfect balance between these two extremities, ultimately the album appeals to everyone, including themselves, which is perhaps the element of The Hunter that warms my heart the most.
It is difficult to choose one Mastodon LP that The Hunter most reflects. When you look at tracks like "Stargasm", the Title Track and "Bedazzled Fingernails" you recognise the spacey timbre that was present on Crack The Skye, and Sci-Fi horror elements that would have fit in nicely with the downright weird storyline that was explored on Crack The Skye. Tracks like "Black Tongue", which are finally given a context, seem like more of a throwback to the doom-style riffage of Crystal Skull, rather than a risky delving into Trivium-style two-part guitar harmonies over chugging power chords; a formula that has been well flogged over the years and is as boring now as it sounds. Furthermore, Thickening, the immediate standout track, takes elements of the rollicking, nautical guitar rhythms that were so well executed on Leviathan, and runs with them just long enough to surprise listeners when they then launch into a "Last Baron" style tempo change. Finally, as seen in tracks like "Curl Of The Burl", "Spectrelight", and "All The Heavy Lifting", The Hunter features the most songs written in Drop A since Remission in its entirety. That's enough to make anyone happy.
The Hunter is a brilliant throwback to the things we love most about Mastodon, while still being highly effective in keeping the band's fanbase on its toes in terms of what to expect next. The Hunter is sensible enough to retain some of the elements we've seen in the Georgia quartet before - something which bands are almost never praised for.