Mastodon - The Hunter (Warner Bros.)
Having transcended their origins as a cult act into leaders and innovators of heavy rock with 2009’s brilliant Crack The Skye (one of that year's best according to moi), Atlanta, Georgia’s Mastodon were faced with a difficult proposition. Where does a metal band go after delivering a critically vindicated masterpiece about astral projecting Russian tsars and mind-bending, dimension-hopping?
The knee-jerk answer would be to slap on that old ‘back-to-basics’ tag, and first impressions of The Hunter are of a record that attempts to win back the metal purists who saw the prog-tinged excursions of Crack The Skye as an indulgence. Indeed, gone are the ten-minute epics and narrative consistency, but closer inspection reveals that Mastodon haven’t done away with their heady ideas, but instead cleverly balanced all their musical tangents into tighter packages.
The titanic fug of its predecessor still hovers thick in the winding psychedelia of All The HeavyLifting and Stargasm’s riffage, and most notably lingers in the haunting closer, The Sparrow. It's sole lyric a winding mantra ('pursue happiness with diligence') was the life motto of a recently deceased friend. Free of the constraints of a complicated (well, borderline-convoluted) thematic concept, their ideas explode into some impressive stand-alone tangents. Spectrelight and Black Tonuge bear all the muscular force of their earliest work, while at the other end of the spectrum lies the experimental CreaturesLives – possibly the strangest track the four-piece have recorded to date.
Once again, their music doubles as a fireworks display of their technical skill, all finger-shredding guitar histrionics and virtuosic drums; and not least in the three-man vocals. There’s bassist Troy Sanders’ throaty power, guitarist Brent Hinds’ distinctive Ozzy Osborne growl and Brann Dailor is one of those rare, impossibly co-ordinated drummer/singers. Their vocal diversity perfectly suits the scope of their ambitious sound. At their best, such as on the meaty title track, they achieve a smart balance of brawny power with spacey atmospherics. Ultimately The Hunter finds Mastodon’s many heavy affectations in perfect equilibrium.
Behold, the nerdiest metal band in existence!