The eight legged prehistoric prog-metal pachyderm has migrated beyond the security of concept album territory and arrived at pastures new. From 2002 debut "Remission": Fire, 2004 breakthrough "Leviathan": Water, 2006 epitome "Blood Mountain": Earth and 2009 epic "Crack the Skye": Space/ Ęther; Mastodon have covered all the bases when it comes to concept records. So with the band's fifth studio release: "The Hunter", the four cavemen of the apocalypse have shattered their own mould. Gone are the fourteen minute chronicles and interweaving lyrical themes, and in their place are thirteen expertly crafted, condensed concrete cuts.
Opener "Black Tongue" is an ensnarling, trippy trek with a welcome detour via signature 'Don chugging and the first of many time changes. The sludgy, yet indefinably catchy "Curl of the Burl" follows. Composed in the vintage Mastodon tuning of standard D, with the top string dropped to a monstrous A tone, the track ruptures with ceremonious guitar and vocal harmonies, while whimsical lyrics ("I killed a man 'coz he killed my goat/ I put my hands around his throat") are constructed with stirring melodies. It's fair to speculate this is as radio-friendly as the widely acclaimed Atlantans' will ever be.
One noticeable and instantly agreeable facet of "The Hunter" is its ability to seem familiar and still remain fresh. Songs like "Blasteroid"; with infectious intonation, hardcore style verse riffage, juxtaposition of clean and roaring vocals, would easily feel at home alongside "Capillarian Crest" or "Bladecatcher", from "Blood Mountain". Likewise "Stargasm"; a tale of interstellar copulation, overflowing with wah, phasers, flange and Theremin- esque effects, would tie in nicely with the themes of "Crack the Skye". Excluding Troy Sanders' impressive vocal range during the chorus, "Octopus has no Friends" is almost a strung-out, psychedelic "Aqua Dementia", from "Leviathan". Brent Hinds' mind bending fretwork and Brann Dailor's time signature defying drum fills are present as ever and would admirably lend themselves to the 2004, Moby Dick inspired saga.
The punishing: "Spectrelight", (Neurosis front-man Scott Kelly's fourth consecutive appearance on a Mastodon release) is a cyclopean gallop in drop A which could seamlessly follow "Remission" favourites: "Crusher Destroyer" or "Mother Puncher". Let there be no discrepancy; this is not merely reversion to successful formulas; Mastodon, somehow have miraculously produced a veritable "Best of" album, comprised of entirely new material.
A master-class in song structuring is displayed by the tyrannous "All the Heavy Lifting". Fluctuating time patterns are cultivated via the blending of complex diametric sections and Sanders' edict during the chorus: "Just close your eyes/And pretend that everything's fine", is as imperative and intransigent, as it is irresistible. The title track, penned for Brann Dailor's brother who passed away during a hunting expedition is simply astounding. Ever so slightly tinged with melancholy, the haunting, hypnotic number meanders majestically and Hinds' poignant solo almost communicates a tangible sense of Dailor's loss. The cyborg-like drummer provides lead vocals during the riveting, classic-rock tinged "Dry Bone Valley" and the stick wielding, human metronome even composed and provides all the vocal parts on the solemn and austere "The Creature Lives". Psychedelia is once again restored by the spiralling climb of "Bedazzled Fingernails". While "The Sparrow" brings the record to a personal and touching close; virtually an instrumental, it is a harrowing tribute to the late wife of the band's accountant. The only lyrics are "Pursue happiness with diligence", which reputably was the mantra of the deceased.
Although there is no linear narrative as with previous offerings, Mastodon claim that the individual songs from "The Hunter" combined to create an overall theme of wood. This could simply be a ploy to retain the old, prog-loving audience the band has built over the years. Interestingly Paul Romano, who provided all of the earlier art work for the band has been replaced by wood carver AJ Fosik, giving credence to the wood based concept. Furthermore "the Burl" refers to a knot found in trees, it acts almost like a cancer to the stricken tree. Either way, concept or no concept "The Hunter" is an extraordinary step forward in the evolution of one of the finest acts of the last ten years. Mastodon have a reputation for consistently producing quality albums and the primordial pillars of progressive metal have defiantly preserved their eminence perfectly.