Mastodon - The Hunter
Mastodon are a progressive band in the most literal of senses; every album has been a huge leap on from the last and latest opus The Hunter is no exception. Whereas Crack The Skye was characterised by huge sweeping epics that dove off into long instrumental passages brimming with technical prowess and proggy showmanship, here the band have refined the sound into shorter, sharper, more melodic offerings and unlike Blood Mountain, jammed with schizophrenic jumbles of multiple half-baked ideas masquerading as songs, here they have a solidity and air of being fully realised pieces.
As well as being more concise and arguably digestible to an audience more accustomed to quick fixes than its predecessor, The Hunter also brings in new flavours to the mix; some are more deftly added than others, as the obvious influence of Queens Of The Stone Age seems clunky and derivative in the likes of 'Curl Of The Burl' and 'Dry Bone Valley'. There is even the odd left field addition incorporated, none more so than the pop harmonies ala Polyphonic Spree in 'Creature Lives', a rather quirky and surreal number that is as surprising as it is pleasing.
The other major step change, and one that will undoubtedly divide fans, is how markedly less heavy Mastodon have become on The Hunter; there are exceptions that hark back to a previous age such as 'Blasteroid' and 'Spectrelight', but generally it is a mellower, more harmonious Mastodon these days. 'Octopus Has No Friends' is underpinned by a Floydian echo-drenched lead line that sees the band in a playful mood at odds with the angry young headbangers of Remission; meanwhile 'The Sparrow', a brilliant track with which to close this fabulous work, is a carefully woven and ethereal study in introspection and scarcity.
What Mastodon have proved with The Hunter is that they will not be pigeonholed or fall into the same old pattern. This record may not be many fans' favourite – I, for one, still consider Crack The Skye their best to date – but it is a remarkable observation of clever songwriting and shows skill in weaving together many disparate elements. Whether they can maintain this high standard of reinvention is a question for the future, but for now just enjoy the fact that have pulled it out the bag once again.