Mastodon is nominally a metal band, but with each successive outing the Georgia quartet stomps farther away from that specific label. After a trilogy of progressively more progressive concept albums, “The Hunter” does away with clunky big ideas and shape-shifting epics, resulting in the band’s most efficient and instantly appealing album.
As if to confirm the band’s metal bona fides, the first words on “The Hunter” are vocalist Troy Sanders growling, “I burned out my eyes / I cut off my tongue,” over the kind of robust riff on which the band has built its reputation on. When Brann Dailor’s double kick drum blasts the song into hyperspeed, it’s clear that Mastodon is still plenty capable of full-force mayhem. “Curl of the Burl” and “Spectrelight” are other examples of the band cranking into overdrive — the former gliding on a fierce groove while the latter is one surge after another, packing a handful of peaks into a tight three minutes.
But the title track is more representative of Mastodon’s approach on its fifth album. Instead of a churning riff, we hear twinkling notes specked with echo and reverb, creating a slow-burner that’s more ballad than bludgeon. The band has always had a wide sonic palette and now adds some emotional heft. “The Hunter” is not dissimilar to “Unforgiven” or “Black Hole Sun,” songs that helped launch Metallica and Soundgarden, respectively, to mega-stardom.
Mastodon isn’t quite at that level yet — the band is still too willfully weird. The highlight of “The Hunter” is “Creature Lives,” which features lyrics about . . . a swamp creature. The song also features majestic backing vocals and a triumphant, ascending guitar riff that’s sure to get some non-metalheads indulging in just a bit of headbanging.
--David Malitz, Sept. 26, 2011