Mastodon. A name positively throbbing with power, yet heavy with the weight of expectation. As you know from my review of 'Leviathon', I am a huge fan of this Altantan prog-metal quartet, and when the teaser for 'The Hunter' dropped back in August, my anticipation was noticeably amplified. The problem with this however is whether or not the final product will deliver on your confident presumption that it will. During Mastodon's dozen year career, they have often been defined as recording metal for people who aren't metal-heads. For the most part, this is because the group break a lot of the stereotypes surrounding metal music, especially on their later releases. The guitars take a heavier rock sensibility, and play a lot of super-melodic tunes over bright, accessible production. And those really are the words for Mastodon. Accessible sludge metal. Sure, those ten letters may form a word that might drive a lot of people away, but these four guys have managed to stay very much progressive becoming just that. In my opinion, this is absolutely fine, except when progressing takes you somewhere you don't want to be, and that is exactly what's happened here. Mastodon have taken their accessibility to a whole other level, and some of that intense energy has been lost on the way up. Let's just say, 'Curl the Burl' is one of the poppiest sludge metal tracks I've ever heard, and I don't like it.
That being said, some of the tracks here do stay true to Mastodon's previous sound, such as the opening number, 'Black Tongue'. Sinister riffs pound over interesting drum phrases, before the incredible “I burned out my eyes / I cut off my tongue” introduces the enjoyably intense lyricism. The drums start to grate after a while, but it's still a track that makes me remember why I love Mastodon so much. The epic scope of 'Stargasm' also hits the spot, building and building up to that one powerful, prevailing, roaring note. One thing that is used throughout 'The Hunter' is this reverb effect over the vocals, which is usually either off or on. It's used on 'Black Tongue' to good effect. It's used on 'Stargasm' to good effect. When we get to 'The Octopus has no Friends', Mastodon decides not to get rid of it, or even tone it down. They decide to replace it with this kitchy robotic mess. The title of that particular song also suggests the Atlantan quartet aren't really taking themselves that seriously, which is reflected in the laziness of the number. 'The Creature Lives' is right below 'Curl the Burl' in this respect. A mesmerising, interesting build leads into what? A half-baked melody that sounds as though it took Mastodon all of five minutes to come up with? Compared with past tracks like 'Joseph Merrick', which is similarly soft, these four minutes are an absolute joke. This, 'The Octopus has no Friends' and 'Curl the Burl' highlight everything bad about this album, and make me cringe every. Single Time.
That being said, nearly every other song on 'The Hunter' is reasonably okay, given numerous listens. But I'm not looking for 'okay'. I know that Mastodon can, and have come up with so, so much better, and that just makes this latest effort a bit of a disappointment. It lacks that edginess. It lacks that hit. That bite and urgency and edge-of-you-seat intensity of albums like 'Leviathon'. I do love some tracks, but I detest others. Overall, I'm underwhelmed, and probably won't touch these twelve songs ever again. 'The Hunter' hasn't managed to capture me, even despite my desperate willingness to be so. Stream 'Black Tongue' below, 'cos it is the best you are going to get out of Mastodon's fifth record.