In college I really started to get into the hardcore and metal genre. Freshman year I managed to attend at least two to three shows a week. Going to college in the middle of Pennsylvania, we would see stuff in the immediate area, Philly, Wilkes-Barre, and even head down to VA for a big festival. Since college I haven’t invested as much effort into the genre. I still go through a phase where I’ll listen to a lot of heavy stuff, but a lot of it is listening to the old favorite bands and not looking into new stuff. Mastodon is most definitely one of those old favorites, and probably, the only band I would still pay to listen to in this genre.
Mastodon formed in 1999, and released their first full-length, Remission, in 2002. Historically they love the concept album. They are definitely the type of guys who fit in just fine creating their own Lord of the Ring or Game of Thrones. Remission’s overarching concept was fire, Leviathan was loosely based on Moby Dick, Blood Mountain was a journey up the mountain to retrieve a crystal skull, and Crack the Sky is just insane. According to the band, Crack the Sky is about art aesthetics of Tsarist Russia, asteral travel, out-of-body experiences, and Stephen Hawking’s theories on worm holes. I am beginning to understand why Crack the Sky is the only album I didn’t care for.
Hunter takes the listener on a slightly different journey. This is the first time the band has no concept for this album. Although they do still write material about fantasy, it doesn’t really follow any larger plot. It also is the first time they have used a different artist for their album artwork. Finally, it is also the first time they have used the same producer as Maroon 5. I’m sorry but that is not very metal at all.
Producer aside, half of this record is still extremely hard-hitting and intense. Unfortunately, I can only say mostly though. First the good! The first two songs on the album are two of my favorite. “Black Tongue” has some really fun guitar riffs and some nice intricate drum work. The vocals come in very powerful and a little more harmonic than some of Mastodon’s past records. I’m a little nervous about the singing. Even though they have done singing before, it continues to seem more and more cleaned up. I saw them on Letterman the other night, and it really didn’t sound all that good. The recording however is excellent. Additionally, the subject matter is still fun and epic as well. The first line goes, “I burned out my eyes / I cut off my tongue…” Even without the concept, they are still writing interesting lyrics that suggest a story line.
“Curl of the Burl” is the first major single off the album. This was the one I saw performed on Letterman. The singing here is even cleaner, which was what made it sound not great on TV. The music is slightly less interesting. I can’t help but think they are trying to continue to go a little more mainstream with their sound. Even though I do like this song, there just isn’t anything really crazy interesting that jumps out at you. There are a few guitar solos here and there, but they don’t really stand out to me. It is however still a catchy song that I enjoy.
A few other songs I like on the album are “Blasteroid”, “All the Heavy Lifting”, and “Octopus has no Friends”. “Blasteroid” has some really nice intricate dueling guitars to start off the song, which lead into this very fast paced and wild song. It’s really one of the few songs they end up screaming on as well. “All the Heavy Lifting” once again has the feel of story telling. It has a similar quality to “Curl of the Burl”; however, it is a driving heavy song. The chorus, “Just close your eyes / and pretend that everything’s fine / just close your eyes / I’ll tell you when”, is sung out in a very epic way. I would really like to see some crazy fantasy video for this one. “Octopus has no Friends” is slightly more intricate in the guitar work. However, the vocals come in very processed and almost machine like. It’s a fun song that sounds really busy because the guitars are crazy in the background.
There are however a few duds on this album. I wish I didn’t have to say that; however, after a week of listening to this record, I have to admit that there are songs I just skip. I have a feeling that these could be excused in a concept album; however, it almost seems like the guys needed to take a break instead. In a concept album, these songs could have been some reflective part in the story. Instead, they come across as a little lackluster.
The song that I almost immediately skip every time is “Creature Lives”. The intro is an instant turn off. It comes in with some rather 80’s electronic sounds and evil laughter. Once again, I might be able to excuse this if it were some concept album that had some strange Tron like theme; however, it almost makes it seem like there is no purpose in it. The 80’s feel and laughter completely fade before the music comes in very slowly. Then it almost breaks into a Black Sabbath type of song. I actually like the song, and it does take the band in a completely different direction, but I forget the goodness behind the corny laughter.
A few other songs that seem really slow and uncharacteristic are “The Sparrow” and “The Hunter”. Although they are fine on their own, they seem to do very little to add to the feel of the record. “The Sparrow” is an interesting song, but I can almost treat it as background music. It starts very slowly and builds but to an impressive guitar solo in the middle before it calms back down; however, it just doesn’t back the punch that Mastodon of the past. “The Hunter” intros slowly as well. For me, I think this one may be the most frustrating of all. It stays really low tempo throughout the entire song. I know the album and song are related to one of the band member’s relatives that died while hunting; however, as a person disconnected from that, it just leaves me wishing the band had done more. As with the last one, this features a really good guitar solo in the middle of the song, but that is the most interesting part of the whole song.
All in all, I don’t think this is a bad album, but, having really expressed my feelings in this review, I find that I don’t like it as much as I thought I did. There are definitely a few songs on here that are great, but there is enough on here that makes me wish for the Mastodon of the past. If you want to hear Mastodon at its best check out Leviathan and Blood Mountain because, in the end, this album is just alright for me.
Teacher Grader: C+
Just to warn you, this video is quasi not safe for work.