This is the part of the review where we talk about Mastodon’s concept album story arcs, like the fact that Leviathan was based on Moby Dick or that 2009’s stellar (yet underrated) Crack the Skye was about someone going through space and time to meet Rasputin, who eventually overtakes their body, means anything to you. The crazy “stories” of the albums make for great critical fodder, but there isn’t a soul on earth who bases their appreciation for the stories of Mastodon albums. We all know this. Mastodon became inarguably the best band saddled with the “hipster metal” tag because of their megaton riffs, their whiplashing time signatures, and their ability to distill 40 years of the advancement of hard rock into a handful of albums.
And this is the part of the review where we obligatorily talk about how all the pre-release talk about the band’s new album, and worst, The Hunter, was written without an overall narrative, that the band wanted to get back to the ripping, fuck-shit-up times of 2006’s Blood Mountain. This will matter, big time, to readers of Decibel and Revolver, namely because metal kids are sure the band lost themselves on Crack the Skye, an album that made Mastodon mean more to non-metal fans than they had before. And that’s fair to some extent, since Crack the Skye had real ambition, a let’s run the world type swagger behind it’s prog-metal epics.
The Hunter certainly has none of that, as it trades the organ liquidating power of Crack the Skye for a collection of songs that sound as much like a B-sides compilation as a new LP. Bland riffage (the album’s middle third) butts up against even blander attempts at balladry (“Creature Lives”), while the truly great stuff (“The Sparrow,” “Spectrelight” and “Black Tongue”) towers over the rest. The things that made Mastodon distinctively Mastodon—the songs with ambition, the time signature and dynamic shifting, the sense of grandeur– are gone in favor of a radio-ready sheen and three-minute songs. This is Mastodon as a band ready for rock radio placement, sure to shake off any Brooklynites who grabbed onto the band circa 2009.
It’s tempting to lay a lot of Hunter’s problems at the feet of producer Mike Elizondo, whose previous hard rock experience is limited to working on albums by Switchfoot and Avenged Sevenfold. But Elizondo’s EQ-leveling isn’t entirely to blame. Mastodon have talked a lot in interviews about wanting to have “fun” again, and just get to the music, and how there was pressure from fans to get back to simpler stuff. In that regard, The Hunter is a resounding success. But you can probably expect just as vocal a contingent of Mastodon fans begging the band to do long concept albums again if The Hunter is what happens when the band lets loose.