For the first time in their career, Mastodon has chosen to drop the concept album pattern that they have followed for the last four albums. After writing extensively about the elements of fire, water, earth and air, the band decided to write about, well, nothing in particular on The Hunter. The result is a refreshing album that finds itself not plagued by over-indulgent progressive tendencies and some of the best riffs in years from the quartet.
From the riffs and thunderous drumming in the introduction of album opener “Black Tongue,” it’s clear this album won’t be as progressive or ethereal as its predecessor, 2009’s Crack the Skye. The first three tracks, the sludgy “Black Tongue,” the catchy single “Curl of the Burl,” and the Led Zeppelin-inspired “Blasteroid” feature the band at their fastest. While the songs lack a central theme, the general sense of entertainment that comes from these three, and the entire album for that matter, ties the album together.
The vocals on The Hunter feature the band at their best. The clean vocal style which they started using near-exclusively on 2006’s Blood Mountain continues here and is the best the metal gods have sounded in their careers. Where lead guitarist Brent Hinds once sounded whiny and shrill, his voice is now deeper and more pleasing, while also containing some menacing grit. Bassist Troy Sanders improves his superior deeper vocals and busts out his dormant screams, which haven’t been dusted off for quite some time. Also featured is drummer Brann Dailor’s voice, which was featured briefly on the previous album as one of the better moments. Dailor sings more frequently on The Hunter, especially on the track “Dry Bone Valley,” which features Dailor behind the wheel, driving the beat with his propulsive drums and the melody with his vocals.
The guitar interplay is great, as always, with Hinds and rhythm guitarist Bill Kelliher crafting some incredibly intricate riffs. The intro of the title track recalls “Sleeping Giant” from Blood Mountain, as well as some of Hinds’ best vocals on the album, making it a highlight. The sludgy, rapid, riff-filled “Spectrelight,” featuring vocals from Scott Kelly of Neurosis, recalls the band’s instrumental style on 2004’s Leviathan, making it a sure favorite for fans of the band’s early, heavier work.
Closer “The Sparrow” is the best track on the album and one fans of Crack the Skye will surely rejoice to hear. While there isn’t much in the lyrical department, the spacey effect placed on the vocals gives it a unique and gratifying effect. The repeated arpeggio guitar riff is also very reminiscent of the previous album. From the midpoint on, the song picks up, featuring a searing solo from Hinds in the bridge. It’s a perfect album, and set, closer.
For once, Mastodon chose to abandon the format of the concept album. While it’s interesting to see bands attempt to tackle the concept album, it grows tiring when they constantly fall back on it album after album. To have Mastodon reel their progressive tendencies in and create an unrestrained album is certainly pleasing to this fan. This is one of the best metal albums of the year and sets a new direction for the band. One where they don’t imprison themselves in any particular formula.