Mastodon have never been afraid to take risks, embrace the concept of the concept album and to explore avenues as potent as Moby Dick and Rasputin. They have never been afraid to embrace the 10 minute multi chapter epic and explore their themes with grandeur and ceremony. “The Hunter” then is a radical departure in terms of song structure and concept. Gone are the 10 minute masterpieces, to be replaced by 13, 4 minute masterpieces.
The album opens to dizzying effect with ‘Black Tongue’ which features several layers of riff, penned in by some spectacularly intricate drum patterns that maintain the momentum through 3 minutes (yes, 3 minutes) of locomotive paced excitement. ‘Curl of the Burl’ on the other hand could almost be imagined as a stadium filling, anthem based march, that wins the listener over with its sing-along chorus and searing soloing. ‘Spectrelight’ throws the casual listener off the scent with its speed, menace and aggression, particularly after the previous curiosity ‘Creature Lives’. From the opening fanfare of cheeky space age banter and moving cosmic organ, through to the ethereal bass line and celestial vocals, ‘Creature Lives’ sits awkwardly, and could almost be regarded as Mastodon’s attempt at a festive tune. The sheer audacity of including ‘Creature Lives’ goes some way to show how confident Mastodon are in their creative abilities.
The closing track ‘The Sparrow’ drifts along to begin with over layers of arpeggios and delicate soundscapes, before appearing over the horizon with a wave of guitars and poignant solos that are drenched in sentiment. The artwork for the cover of “The Hunter” also reflects a progression in style for the band as they have employed A J Fosik, the wood carver, who, in the past, has designed the backdrop for the stage sets, rather than Paul Romano who has forged a familiar aesthetic for previous Mastodon releases.
Working with Mike Elizondo, who has worked with such divergent artists as Eminem, Busta Rhymes and 50 Cent on this release, we still experience the face sheering riff and the intricate, jazz influenced percussion, but condensed into what may be for some, more user friendly pieces that may help ingratiate Mastodon with a new audience. It could be argued that “The Hunter” lacks direction, and appears to have been put together by mistake. But credit to the bands attitude is that this does in no way detract from the cohesiveness of the album. Gone are the soundtracks to the apocalypse, the tidal wave of guitar on “Crack the Skye” and the unswerving riff of “Leviathan”, but say hello to a richer, condensed Mastodon with many stories to tell, some of them possibly at Christmas.