Origin: Atlanta, GA
Mastodon was the first “big” metal band I ever saw live. They played the Roseland Theater (a venue that is widely believed to be haunted) with Red Fang (Portland locals) and The Dillinger Escape Plan (who I didn’t much care for at the time) back in 2011, a show I went to with some high school friends. My memories of the concert mostly consist of being too scrawny to survive the mosh pit and of becoming dehydrated enough to begrudgingly buy a $4 bottle of water at the concessions stand.
I wasn’t much of a fan at the time, but I’ve grown to appreciate Remission and Leviathan as two heavy and fun records. The Hunter, by comparison, is a pretty tepid offering. By this point in their career the band had already garnered acclaim, some of it even from crossover critics in publications like Pitchfork, and their albums had covered such conceptual ground as Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (Leviathan, natch) to “what if Stephen Hawking could astral project by listening to King Crimson” (Crack the Skye). But The Hunter is really a pop album.
After all, “Curl of the Burl” nearly won them a Grammy (the second time they would be nominated, of many, until “Sultan’s Curse” won in 2018), and it’s easy to see why. The hooky track has an easy groove that would easily fit it right between Alice in Chains and Foo Fighters. A lot of the tracks on The Hunter fit in the same mold, trading in the sludgy churn of earlier records for a more melodic pace.
Ok, maybe that’s a little unfair. Sure the album is pretty post-grungey upfront, but “Stargasm” (apt name) and “Octopus Has No Friends” add some proggy twists. I have a lot of love for Prog Rock, owing to some mix-CDs my dad made for me when I was just a kid with a portable CD-player, and Post-Rock occupied a lot of my listening towards the end of high school. “Thickening” also stands out as a spacier track harkening back to some of Mastodon’s work on Blood Mountain. It’s followed by “Creature Lives,” which contains an intro that is an absolute love letter to Pink Floyd.
To be sure, Mastodon’s songwriting here is solid, and some of these songs offer the same thrills as those of their earlier albums. But it feels as though they may have gone back to the well one too many times. The Hunter doesn’t make for a bad intro to Mastodon’s catalogue. It’s not overlong, the songwriting is still sharp, and it’s easy to see how someone with more of an interest in alternative rock could find their way to Mastodon via tracks like “Curl of the Burl.” The Hunter just never reaches the same peak as Leviathan.
But what do I know? Metal has only ever been a genre on the periphery of my musical interests. Every year one or two bands filters through, typically at the recommendation of more indoctrinated friends. If I continue to write about these albums, it’ll simply be a mental exercise. An outsider’s opinion.