Metal fans are very possessive. They think of bands as 'theirs.' Very often (though they may not admit it) part of the reason they like a band is simply because no one else does. So what happens when a band becomes popular? What happens when they move from the underground indie label to the big swanky major label? What happens when they stop playing small clubs where they hang out with fans and start playing arenas with security?
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While Mastodon may not be a household name, they certainly have come a long way since their humble beginnings. A few years ago they moved from Relapse to Reprise and opened up to a whole new audience. The vocals got a little cleaner and the music a little more polished. Sure it was still heavy and in some cases even more complex, but some of that special feeling had worn off.
Metal is about freedom, about not conforming, about not being played on the radio. So shouldn't a band have the freedom to make the music they want and hope their fans, both new and old like it?
'The Hunter' may not be as big a change for Mastodon as Heritage is for Opeth, but you can't deny that they've been progressing ever since the change to the major label. 'Black Tongue' doesn't break any new ground right of the bat. There's typical bombast and precision drumming, but there seems to be a concerted effort to sing in a more…palatable way.
'Curl of the Burl' has what might be called a sing along chorus, something unthinkable during the 'Remission' era of the band. I might even go so far as to call it radio friendly. Still heavy, still a great tune, still Mastodon.
'Blasteroid' is one of those songs that makes you want to drive faster the louder you play it. It's also the second song in a row that features 'whoa ohhh' vocals, but it's ok because they're paired with some old school raw screaming if only for a line or two.
In the running for song title of the year we have 'Stargasm'. It has an extra terrestrial quality that's suggested by the title. With every Mastodon album I have to listen a few times to take it all in. Hell, I have to listen once just to try and keep track of all of the amazing drum fills. No shortage of them here.
OK did I say 'Stargasm' was a great title? How about 'Octopus Has No Friends?' Brilliant and it brings us back to the nautical themes of 'Leviathan'. This is also a song that I wouldn't be surprised to hear on the radio. The songs on 'The Hunter' are all very dense, thick if you will. The cleaner singing has opened them up a little, but there's still a lot going on instrumentally.
The title track has the makings of an epic Mastodon storyline song, but opts for a break from the mayhem instead. Shimmering guitars evoke tye-dyed light showing swirling smoke billowing off the stage. Grab your lighters when they play this live... or do that annoying thing where you hold up your cell phone light... what the fuck is that all about? Cell phones are not Metal. Fire is Metal. Arguments have been made for an against guitar solos in Metal today but I love a good slow burn solo like the one here.
'Dry Bone Valley' struck me as the most un Mastodon sounding song the first time I played the album; maybe it's just Brann's vocals that cut through better. Is 'Thickening' about getting wider or is it a sign of displeasure from Sylvester the Cat? I guess we'll never know. I certainly can't figure it out.
'Creature Lives' is a Lovecraftian romp through the sci-fi terror realms…why do they keep playing the THX music in the intro? OK, it finally stopped, phew. Here's another example of the vocals throwing a curveball. It seems to be such a matter of fact song about a swamp creature; strange.
'Spectrelight' is a good old-fashioned Mastodon tune and the closest thing to the old vocal style on the album. It also features a guest spot by Neurosis guitarist Scott Kelly.
'Bedazzled Fingernails' - OK, let's just say Mastodon wins the song title contest for 2011. I love the slower Mastodon tunes like the album closer 'The Sparrow'. A great way to end a great record.
Overall, 'The Hunter' lacks the narrative of 'Crack The Skye', but that just allows each tune to stand on its own.