It takes a special kind of band to put out an album whose gimmick is that it doesn’t have a grandiose cosmic concept behind it, but Mastodon do just that with The Hunter, their fifth full-length record and third major label release. But while such a claim hints at a “return to form,” it’s truly impossible for the band to entirely forsake the prog-rock sound that dominated Crack the Skye. Instead, Mastodon has moved forward, merging the chunky stoner-thrash of their early releases with the freewheeling spaciness of their newer material.
Opening duo “Black Tongue” and “Curl of the Burl” are awesome stoner-metal anthems, channeling the best parts of Alice In Chains and King Crimson; the latter has a certain hip-swinging tempo that will please strippers worldwide. “Blasteroid” is both a rager and an infectious pop tune, and “Stargasm” confronts the band’s hallucinogenic prog work with ample aggression. By “Octopus Has No Friends,” things begin to blur a bit. The title track and “Dry Bone Valley” sound like they came from a Mastodon song generator (in fact, there’s a lead on “The Hunter” that this author is almost positive exists in another Mastodon song). “Creature Lives” is a strange half-acoustic piece with a certain metalhead solidarity to it, but the closing three tracks are pretty unremarkable, and it takes re-experiencing the album’s first half to remember why one listened to it at all.
Which leaves Mastodon with a solid, if mixed, album. And that’s fine; in fact, it’s great. Rather than play into expectations and write 12 15-minute songs about H.P. Lovecraft or the Dead Sea Scrolls, Atlanta’s finest created a more-than-decent metal record. Lots of musicians dream of being hailed as geniuses; Mastodon seem over that, instead simply content to be musicians. CHRIS KROVATIN