Mastodon's latest, the hotly anticipated “The Hunter” is out now and everybody is asking 'what does Born Again Nihilist think of that?', well settle down people, let gentle Edward relieve you.
Firstly, a few significant changes with this record: this marks a departure with long-time cover artist Paul Romano, who has been the incomparable talent behind all of Mastodon's cover art with this exception, and at the producer on this one was the surprising choice of pop and hip hop producer Mike Elizondo, who most famously worked on peak era Eminem. Also, although I may be proven wrong, this record doesn't seem to follow on with the elements theme that the previous Mastodon records have used. What hasn't changed? Scott Kelly makes an appearance.
The record opens with the furious 'Black Tongue', and already a new dimension to their sound is apparent. Something akin to the sound that High on Fire are going for on their latest, Snakes For The Divine. However, that's not necessarily a good sign for me since I thought that Snakes was HOF's weakest work. It clearly suits Mastodon better than HOF and we press on with Curl of the Burl. This one is quite poppy, in its vocals more than anything else and with a hip hop producer at the helm, an emphasis on the vocals has to be expected. One thing that I love, and may be down to Elizondo, is how high Troy Sanders' bass is in the mix. All to often he was nearly buried under mountains of guitars on earlier records, but his talent and gorgeous sound shine through on this one wonderfully.
At this stage, it's already apparent that the band's vocals are at the best they've ever been, Brent and Troy and especially Brann, are just excellent. They've come a long way since the half growled half spoken Life's Blood, although on third track, Blasteroid, Brent brings out some old fashioned harsh screams. Indeed there are a handful of harkings back to previous sounds, including but not limited to the Sleeping Giant invoking Stargasm, one of the stand-out tracks on here and the first to indulge the sci-fi sounds that reoccur throughout the record.
Besides the lean towards the HOF style, there is something entirely new that I can't quite put my finger on... which is just what I fuckin' love about Mastodon really! The oddly named Octopus Has No Friends is what provokes the feeling from this blogger, another stand-out, particularly for those who agree that what is best in Mastodon is the fact that they always keep you guessing. When the grapevine first began buzzing about The Hunter, I was expecting something like a return to Remission, due to the talk from the band that this was to be a 'beer drinking album'. Admittedly, it was stupid of me to expect a repeat of Remission; this is something entirely new, and what less should I have expected from the Atlanta heroes. One thing that it does share with Remission is the lack of a definite concept.
Blood Mountain obsessives (like myself) will dig All The Heavy Lifting at track 6, in my opinion, the strongest track here contained. Troy's voice sores like an endangered bird. Crack The Skye fans will dig the immediately following track, The Hunter. It has all that luscious mystery that epitomised CTS, and the first to feature Brent's free-flow soloing, which I think has improved somewhat since it came to the fore on CTS.
All new sound scapes yet again on Dry Bone Valley, a hard hitting all-metal number that opens with almost Popol Vue style chord swells. Not far behind, Creature Lives, is one of the little gems on the album. Entirely composed by drummer Brann Dailor, it begins with one minute of synth sounds (think the old THX trailer at the cinema) and Ming The Merciless evil chuckles. As we get into the thick of it, we are presented with an English folk influenced vocal epic that is totally unprecedented in the Mastodon back catalogue. Not a million miles away from The Wildhearts' 'Geordie in Wonderland'. Things turn all Leviathan on the next track, Spectrelight, with the unmistakable voice of evil genius Scott Kelly rearing its sludgy head before long. To usher us out into the disappointing real world again, The Sparrow closes this latest piece of mastery from Mastodon. Although it's missing about 20 minutes compared to haunting acoustic closing tracks from previous albums, it retains all the dark charm and will probably go down as one of the most beautiful songs they have ever committed to record.
While fans of Mastodon may at first be sceptical, take it from me, this one is a grower! Like all the best albums, it will leave you underwhelmed at the first listen, curious by the second and hooked by the third. If there's one thing I wasn't too impressed with, it was Brann's drumming. Much of the same old I thought, but then being the most amateur of drummers, my opinion on that is not terribly valid. Everything else is played at 11, no doubt about that son!
Mastodon - The Hunter, Roadrunner Records.
Rating – 9/10
Listen to – All The Heavy Lifting, Stargasm, Dry Bone Valley, Spectrelight....or all of 'em!
Edward Gerard Brophy for Born Again Nihilist, 2011.