The Lighter Side of Metal

The heavy rockers of Mastodon get surprisingly upbeat

November 22, 2011

Mastodon’s thematically rich, musically complex albums are objects of veneration among thinking metalheads. But with its latest album, the Atlanta quartet just wanted to make like Cyndi Lauper.

“Let’s just try to have fun with it and write something that’s happy or upbeat,” said guitarist Bill Kelliher, recalling Mastodon’s mindset before recording “The Hunter.”

That feeling was a reaction to the group’s experience with 2009’s “Crack the Skye,” a concept-heavy prog-metal epic that rewarded close listening — at home and in person, since Mastodon performed the entire LP on tour. But a concert isn’t the best place to get lost in a complex story about astral travel.

“It was tiring playing the record every night from beginning to end,” Kelliher said. “The ‘Crack the Skye’ thing was so deadpan and serious, more of a shoegazer kind of concert. Then we started playing the old songs during the set and people started going crazy. So we took that as, ‘Let’s just write a record full of songs again and don’t attach a theme.’”

Whereas six of “Crack the Skye’s” songs exceed five minutes (two are longer than 10), only two of the 13 tracks on “The Hunter” reach that mark. And while songs such as “The Sparrow” and “All the Heavy Lifting” address the serious subject of loss — and the album title is an homage to guitarist-singer Brent Hinds’ brother, who died while Mastodon made “The Hunter” — “Curl the Burl” is about a meth head who snorts wood chips.

“‘The Hunter’ came together quite unlike any record we’ve done before,” Kelliher said. In a surprise move, the band brought in hip-hop producer Mike Elizondo. There are no rap-rock cuts, but Elizondo did make each track snap, crackle and pop in ways previously unheard on a Mastodon record.

“We just had these skeletons of riffs and songs strewn together,” Kelliher said. “But when we went into the studio, it was magic.” Fun, even.

9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; Sun., 6:30 p.m., sold out; 202-265-0930. (U St.-Cardozo)
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Nevin Martell · November 22, 2011