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Customer Review

66 of 75 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different ... Yet Still Great, September 27, 2011
This review is from: The Hunter (Audio CD)
The Hunter is the long-anticipated follow-up to 2009's Crack the Skye, one of Mastodon's finest achievements in their career. After exploring the limits of progressive songwriting with complex arrangements, excellent vocal melodies, and a perfect balance between heavy and melodic passages, the band decided to pursue a different musical style with their new release.

This album marks an important step in the band's evolution. It was mixed and produced by Mike Elizondo whose resume includes non-metal artists like Dr Dre, Eminem, and 50 Cent. Worry not, though, the mix is spectacular and the sound clarity amazing (though I prefer the more dynamic production on their earlier work by far). However, Elizondo has definitely pushed Mastodon into writing shorter and less complex songs with heavier emphasis on melodic chord progressions and hook-filled arrangements. There is not a single song that reaches six minutes; the writing is more immediate and to the point. Actually, many of the songs are around the three-minute mark, with "Blasteroid" being even shorter: a punk-infested drive, simple yet powerful guitar work, and melodic vocals balanced out by aggressive singing make up the composition.

The stylistic change in the band's sound and style cannot be entirely attributed to their new producer, however. They also have a new cover artist and they've changed their method of writing. While albums like Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye were painstakingly composed and took a long time to produce, The Hunter was recorded in only a few weeks. Also, the songs were largely written on the road while the band was on tour with Alice In Chains. The album sees Mastodon liberating themselves from conceptual boundaries. Rather than exploring more complex themes and writing everything under that theme, this time around, they've written songs that are independent of each other, songs that stand on their own.

The band's enigmatic lyrics and approach to constructing riffs and melodies is fully intact with a few exceptions. "Curl of the Burl" starts with the line "I killed a man cause he killed my goat," a song whose swaggering groove was possibly inspired by a Queens of the Stone Age track. There are more overt references to their inspirations: I hear lots of Neil Peart-like drum fills by Brann Dailor whose performance is uniformly stunning on this disc. His playing on "Octopus Has No Friends" is impossibly tasty, and his tone is amazing. The song deploys an epic build-up with powerful vocals and deep-in-the-pocket rhythms. The way the cascades of guitars work to the anthemic chorus is nothing short of brilliant.

The band also pays tribute to Pink Floyd in more than one track. "Stargasm" (with lyrics about sex in space!) is informed by Floydian synth swells eventually dissolving under thunderous drum attacks and liquidy instrumental passages while "Creature Lives" is unlike anything they have done before. It mixes tons of sampled voices, lots of keyboard effects, odd tonalities, and deep bass notes to achieve a unique sound with syrupy vocal lines, but honestly, it's not what I expect of Mastodon. I love experimental music, but I consider this one among their least interesting.

There are also similarities to their previous work. The band continues to pen personal lyrics as they did on Crack the Skye. The title track is about the unexpected death of guitarist Brent Hinds' brother while hunting (actually the working title of this album was Brother, but the band decided to go with The Hunter eventually). With acoustic guitars from the shadows, keys mistily creeping through the song, and plaintive vocals, the song morphs into a Lep Zeppelin-inspired blues guitar solo that consumes you. And the lyrics will scar your soul.

Similarly, the final track, "The Sparrow," commemorates the loss of a friend of the band's. It is extremely personal, as the lyrics "Pursue happiness with diligence" are her words. This is arguably the finest closing track on any Mastodon album due to its emotional breadth. The vocals are apathetic, sung as if he'd rather not be there, but the instrumentation is suffused with sheer emotion. This makes the song weightier and more real. The guitar solo is haunting; it wails and wails over worldess vocal melodies, and the song finishes in a strange yet beautiful way.

As with the previous three Mastodon discs, Scott Kelly from Neurosis once again guests on the album on the fast-paced, rhythmically dense "Spectrelight." Kelly's distinct raspy voice drives the piece towards its apex amidst a storm of riffs and pummelling drum slam. The band's fans of earlier material should also enjoy the doomsday riffing of the opening track with its scorching vocals, relentless low end, and intricate rhythm force.

The Hunter is likely to be Mastodon's breakthrough album, gaining them more fans than before. It is a very strong addition to their discography. Fans of their earlier, sludge-infested material with aggressive vocal parts, pulverizing riffs, and complex songwriting may or may not embrace it depending on their tastes. Personally, I consider Blood Mountain their high-water mark due to the fact that it seamlessly blends the raw aggression of Leviathan with the progressive mindset of Crack the Skye, but I enjoy all of their albums, including this one. I just enjoy them for different reasons.
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Showing 1-8 of 8 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Sep 27, 2011 10:09:31 AM PDT
This was an incredibly thorough and well written review of one of my all time favorite artists. Picking this album up today and you've made me even more excited to hear it for the first time.

Posted on Sep 28, 2011 1:24:21 PM PDT
I completely disagree with some of your personal opinions regarding various songs on the album but I couldn't agree more that this is a fantastic disc. I intensely dislike the screaming on Blasteroids, their lack of this types of lyrics are the reason I love Remission and Leviathan. In my opinion, this is their weakest track. I also loved Creature lives. While it in no way recalls their style pre-Crack the Skye I think it is pleasant and I love the lyrics. You are spot on with your Brann Dailor comment, he is absolutely fantastic through out the album.

Posted on Oct 4, 2011 9:39:34 PM PDT
slayerfan91 says:
You say "they've written songs that are independent of each other, songs that stand on their own" and I've seen that said in lots of reviews, but ironically, when you listen to this album start to finish, many tracks (particularly in the middle of the disc) don't stand out from the others. It's hard for me to distinguish Stargasm from Octopus from Heavy Lifting from Quickening, they all sound so similar in tempo, modulated vocals and phased guitars. Elizondo's bright, thin and and over-layered production doesn't help, and IMO is probably the reason why about 70% of the disc sounds so homogenous. His techniques may work for songs like "In Da Club" but not for music where actual musicianship matters. To me, it feels like this is Mastodon's first "iPod" album, a collection of songs that sounds better on shuffle or popping up on a playlist.

Posted on Oct 7, 2011 7:43:23 AM PDT
J. Dooley says:
Interesting that you liked Blood Mountain best out of all of Mastodon's albums. I found Blood Mountain to be pretty boring after "Colony of Birchmen," and "Capillarian Crest" was the only song I enjoyed as much as "Colony."

Posted on Oct 14, 2011 2:10:52 AM PDT
Kyle\ says:
Great review man. Couldn't agree with you more on most of what you had to say. The Octopus Has No Friends is possibly my favorite on the allbum. And Brann's amazing drumming is just one of the reasons...

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 13, 2011 5:07:40 PM PST
202_d says:
Yeah I don't know how to quantify this, but I would say this album is good, but generic. An 'i-pod shuffle' inspired recording? About the most accurate description I've heard yet. Also, no taking away from talent any of these guys have playing, but a fifth talent exists and that is homogeneity as a band and the ability to make it cohesive, this one seems lacking. After what I consider to be a masterpiece (skye) I can hardly see how THIS one is the 'new fan bringer'. Crack the Skye was their 'Black' album except it didn't suck. They flirt close to irrelevance with what most fans are calling this 'new format'. Just for example, how many albums did Iron Maiden (or Rush or Yes or Pink Floyd) do as concept pieces? Lots of work, sure. That's why they excel at what they do. I like the CD but I do see it as squandered talent. They could have just released four or five singles in the interim to a new CD.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2012 1:41:44 AM PST
Perhaps you really just don't like Mastodon, then.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 22, 2012 10:51:00 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2012 10:55:02 AM PST
202_d says:
"Perhaps you really just don't like Mastodon, then'...thats what you got out of that huh?

Well I've listened to this many more times since I originally wrote that and I have found a few songs that have grown on me. I do now think that this CD will have a great follow up, once they get to that.
Songs of note on this CD:
Curl of the Burl_clever title...
Blasteroid_musically very enjoyable, cool time sigs throughout
Stargasm_possibly my favorite on disc
the Hunter_good arrangement, singing style
Dry Bone Valley_tied with 'Curl' as my 2nd favorite
the rest are good, just not worthy of singling out. Over all I like it but as I said before, it is hard to follow a CD like 'Crack the Skye'; I mean name the album that came out after 'The Wall'.....
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