MASTODON has once again thrown a wrench into the gears of expectation. When "Crack The Skye" did exactly what the title suggests and transcended we knew about concept albums, major label releases and the four beard-faced sonic spellcasters responsible for the masterpiece, many of us began to question where the band would go next. I don't think anyone expected the answer to be "The Hunter".
The first album lacking a universal concept since "Remission". "The Hunter" represents an even larger departure for MASTODON from their past. This isn't quite the complete re-invention that many have been calling it, but "The Hunter", without a doubt, is cut from its own cloth. For starters, only one song (that being the PINK FLOYD-ian "The Sparrow") breaks the five-minute mark. No longer do we have to take notes while following along with the sweet sounds of MASTODON. The band has adopted a stripped-down approach on this album and it works quite well. By lessening the complexity of the music, MASTODON has actually made the songs themselves much more interesting. The straight-forward and stony "Curl The Burl" is arguably one of the catchiest songs in the band's career and I one I revisit at least a few times whenever I have the album on. The biggest connection to their previous two releases comes from opening track, "Black Tongue". These riffs are freakin' gargantuan, man! The song's pummeling, yet melodic and progressive neo-thrash bridges the gap between "Crack The Skye" and "The Hunter" quite well.
The evolutionary steps MASTODON has made here are some of the most interesting in recent memory. Parts of this album see the act hanging on to their past by the thinnest of threads, refusing to let go of that last piece of yesterday while tomorrow storms in with a vengeance. The more adamantly they refuse to let go, the more the two worlds collide. The likes of "Stargasm" and "All The Heavy Lifting" still have shreds of MASTODON's proggy experimentalism, just delivered by a group who has been there, done that and would rather not repeat the cycle. The focus is now placed firmly on the songs instead of the universe swirling around them. The end result gives us a very cohesive and consistent album. Not only does "The Hunter" offer fluidity, it's a much more attainable album than this typically cerebral act has put out before. Not to say that these tunes are watered-down or simplified in any way, but they are more straight-forward and digestible (even in their otherworldliness); making "The Hunter" an album for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
We've all seen this scenario play out dozens of times. A band will emerge on the cutting edge of music. They'll take the world by storm with an ability to twist convention just enough to push boundaries, but not so far it keeps them from catching the world's ear. Success comes and the band falls flat by trying to recreate their own formula. MASTODON is one of the few that have recognized it's the lack of any formula that allows them to remain so productively creative. Beyond that, they've opened the gates and allowed a flood of new influences to flow in, and instead of just jigsawing them into an already established sound where they fit most conveniently, MASTODON has transfused a number of new styles into their own. On "The Hunter", MASTODON has thrown away every book they've ever read. By doing so, they've written on of the most interesting chapters of their career.