Review Summary: Brief, accessible, songs with thundering drums and crunching riffs. The Hunter is a must for metal collections in 2011.
In many ways, Mastodon is the quintessential modern metal band. They have been able to effectively blend many of the sub-genres of metal with a good dose of melody. That marriage has created fresh, original, and interesting albums throughout their career. The Hunter is easily distinguishable from their previous effort Crack the Skye because it de-emphasizes a lot of their proggy tendencies while drawing on their past successes. Also, the tracks are refreshingly short. There is not a song on this album as long as six minutes, and this makes the whole album sound sharp and focused.
I must also note that this is Mastodon’s most accessible record to date. As some groups age, they have to make accessible music in order to feel relevant, results be damned. Not so in this case. Although The Hunter is immediately accessible the song quality does not suffer as a result.
The opening two tracks, ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Curl of the Burl’ demonstrate their ability to write and execute brilliant riffs. ‘Curl of the Burl’ is their first single from the album, and with good cause. The main riff in this song will remain stuck in your head for days. ‘Spectrelight’ also has a catchier-than-hell riff. However, they aren’t just a one trick pony. While there are hard, crunching riffs, there are also atmospheric and lush passages.
‘The Hunter’ begins with their signature, sludgy, wall-o-guitars sound. This song in particular demonstrates their ability to restrain their technical prowess to create a flowing atmosphere. ‘Creature Lives’ and ‘The Sparrow’ are also restrained, atmospheric tunes. Guitars, however, are not the only standout on this album. In fact, this album belongs to Brann Dailor. The Hunter opens up with thundering drums, and they simply do not let up. Songs like ‘Black Tongue,’ ‘Curl of the Burl,’ and ‘All the Heavy Lifting,’ showcase Dailor’s knack for playing interesting rhythms.
There are, of course, some negatives to The Hunter. The most obvious negative is Brent Hinds' voice. Some people may like it, but I can’t help making the association to Ozzy. There are times where Hinds voice strains the tweeters in my speakers. I can deal with so-so voices and so-so lyrics, as long as the music is good. Fortunately, the music is so good that it truly does make up for the slight annoyance I have with Hinds voice. While I enjoy ‘Curl of the Burl’ immensely, the lyrics are head-scratchingly ridiculous. Lyrics are typically the least important part of a song, so this isn’t a large negative, but if you’re looking for a philosophy class, look elsewhere. My only other complaint is the intro to ‘Creature Lives.’ The first 40 seconds are full of stupid sound effects. It isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s worth noting. If they’d just dropped that intro, the song would have been much stronger.
Overall, The Hunter is a fantastic album with great musicianship. The songs are (mostly) well arranged and placed on the album. Most importantly, however, is the attention given to brevity. Each musician’s part sounds tight and focused on each of the songs. I also applaud them for expanding their sound to reach for more fans. Mastodon retains their artistic integrity while demonstrating why they have become the defining metal act of this generation.