Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mastodon-The Hunter

Mastodon, Atlanta’s gift to the world of Heavy Metal, released their fifth album, The Hunter, on September 27th.  The band’s first 3 releases, 2002’s Remission, 2004’s Leviathan and 2006’s Blood Mountain were primarily concept driven, where each album told a story when all tracks were put together.

Concept albums are not unique, and while there were some extremely popular ones, The Who’s Tommy and Rush’s 2112 instantly come to mind, for me anyhow, none of the previous conceptually stylized albums told their stories as adeptly as Mastodon did on theirs. 

The band saw a pretty hefty spike in regards to attendance for their live gigs.  Pretty soon they saw their music gaining more and more airplay, in the USA and around the globe.  They began headlining, not arenas but stadium shows.  They got huge, winning the hearts of metal-heads the world over with their intense, relatively unique brand of Metal.  

As with any band, Metal especially, the die-hards and those who rode out the early years with their band, might have been a bit apprehensive when word came out that their, at the time, new release would be deviating away from what the band had put down on those first three records.  The dread “Sell-Out” word was trickling through some corners of the music listening population, even before a single track had been heard.  People, for the most part don’t like change, often coming from the mindset of “If it isn’t broke why fix it” mentality.  People are just nervous when something they enjoy takes another direction, because, let’s face it, some won’t like the road that’s taken or what the near future might have to offer them.  Music is no different, perhaps the apprehension regarding change is even magnified moreover, as musicians in general, to the loyal and die-hard fans out there, represent periods of their lives, for good and bad, becoming a genuine part of how they identify themselves.  So obviously, if you alter this dynamic, it’s easy to see how unrest could stir through a fan base. 

Yet, when looking at change through the eyes of the dedicate musician(s), you have to appreciate those that are willing to, and have the guts to try something different.  You have to respect and applaud those that act progressively, trying to make themselves the best they can be as far as their position within their niche.  Mastodon was no different, and while their 2009 release Crack The Skye was highly anticipated, there certainly were those out there that were a bit nervous as to what they would find.  Crack The Skye turned record numbers for the band, in terms of sales, as well as how their audience expanded tremendously.  The record gained praise from virtually everyone and soon any apprehension that was out there was soon gone and forgotten, as if never existed in the first place.

The album was so good that many fans and critics alike wondered how the band could possibly put out a follow up record and not risk the obvious comparison’s that would undoubtedly be raised.  There was much talk about how fans would have to temper their expectations, as no one really knew what would be released.  Would it be a return to their earlier sound, would it be concept driven, or would it be on par with Crack The Skye?   However, although much of this was most likely present in the minds of their fans, the success of Crack The Skye provided a base for trust.  People weren’t worried about being disappointed, as the band had already provided concrete proof that they can interchange their style however they saw fit and it wouldn’t matter, that the tracks delivered would be good.  Fans though also understood just how good Crack The Skye was/is and seemed to be all right with knowing that it would be tough for Mastodon, or any band for that matter, to follow up such a gem with another effort possessing the same type of WOW factor.  So I’d have to say, with all those I’ve spoken with prior to The Hunter’s release, the vast majority were highly anticipating the record, and were at ease knowing that even if this record isn’t half of what Crack The Skye turned out to be, it would still be one heck of an album.

On September 27th, The Hunter was released, and despite having had a small sampling of the album, through internet sites and/or on SiriusXM liquid metal, I have to believe that nobody knew what they were going to find when they played this new release for the first time.
Personally, I couldn’t find a flaw; every song was both mesmerizing and at times mind-blowing.  Mastodon had never put a record out like The Hunter before.  I dare say it’s even better than Crack The Skye, as after a hundred or so listens, not exaggerating either, the album not only maintains that initially WOW, it keeps getting better with each go-round.

While not as heavy as their earlier releases, there’s a lot more groove, a lot more rock and a tightness we hadn’t heard before.  It truly is a masterpiece.

The Hunter opens up with Black Tongue, one of those tracks that many had a chance to listen to prior to the release.  The track is a perfect song to kick the new album off with, rhythmically balanced and entrancing, with a chorus of “You killed the light/ You took the Diamond…” the listener just new that the remaining 12 tracks would be something special.  The next song is the track that had been widely been playing pre-release, Curl Of The Burl, perhaps the best track on the album, jamming and rocking with some killer vocals, with rhythm and pace a track that really gets you going.  Blasteroid provides some of that older, hazy type of sound and a bit of vocal shifts throughout the track.  Stargasm takes us somewhat back to Leviathan, yet despite the similarities, one can easily feel Stargasm’s catchiness and the other differences that also appear. Octopus Has No Friends, is a bit of a mix of styles, but sticks to a basic ethereal-like nature that becomes its spine. 

Other highlights include the haunting title track, the slow and melodic anthem Creature Lives, the heaviest song Spectrelight, the mesmerizing mix that is Bedazzled Fingernails and The Sparrow, which takes the listener on a primarily instrumental journey where altering movements are eclipsed only by the haunting, distanced vocals that appear from time to time over the music.  The songs I didn’t highlight are also very, very good, but are very similar to many of the qualities I’ve highlighted in these other tracks, particularly Black Tongue and Curl of the Burl
Complete Track Listing:
1.      Black Tongue                         3:27
2.      Curl of the Burl                      3:40
3.      Blasteroid                              2:36
4.      Stargasm                               4:40
5.      Octopus Has No Friends            3:49
6.      All the Heavy Lifting                 4:31
7.      The Hunter                              5:18
8.      Dry Bone Valley                       4:00
9.      Thickening                              4:31
10.    Creature Lives                         4:41
11.    Spectrelight                            3:10
12.    Bedazzled Fingernails               3:08
13.    The Sparrow                           5:31

The Hunter combines the worlds of Metal with a variety of influences, creating a sound completely its own.  If you enjoyed any of Mastodon’s previous releases, especially Crack The Skye, you’ll love this album.  If you aren’t necessarily into the harder stuff out their, but still appreciate an album with a little power yet a whole lot of rhythmic flow, I think you’ll appreciate what The Hunter has to offer.  As I said after listening to Crack The Skye again and again, I’ll say it one more time, yet this time in regards to The Hunter, “ There’s no way Mastodon can ever come close to repeating this kind of perfection, it’s just not realistic.”  And with that said, I’m now, fully expecting to repeat that sentence yet again after Mastodon releases their 6th album.

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