Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mastodon - The Hunter (2011) - First Listen and Review

These albums get leaked and then I listen to them for the first time all the way through while typing out my inane thoughts as each song flashes by. Why do I do this?
A) Because I am deluded... living in a fantasy world thinking I am Hunter Thompson and Cameron Crowe ...
B) because I am amused to read what I wrote a year later and see how stupidly wrong I was ...
C) because none of my real friends and relatives will listen to me babble on about relatively obscure forms of musical expression such as ECM solo piano or in this case extreme metal
D) all of the above

For the record I am writing this in New Delhi and drinking Chivas 12 year, chilled but with no ice.

Purging of the pre-conceptions - I already had heard the first two songs on this album. I also heard that on this album they used all the songs which were too heavy, too brutal or too written by somebody not named Brent Hinds on the last album. Are Mastodon taking the piss? Is this their "Houses of the Holy"? Inconsistent collection of leftovers and off-topic experiments? Who knows. Crack the Skye was awesome, Leviathan was awesome too, Blood Mountain was fantastic. Remission was their first and the last one I owned and its brutally uncompromising and hard to hear what they are singing. That's what I know. (the 9 songs on Call of the Mastodon are even more brutally screamed aggressive cave paintings with over the top drumming. so all their shit is great... so far...)

and off we go.

BLACK TONGUE
Mastodon
are damn unique. Because they permit their drummer to go off and go nuts. The detuned guitars are very powerful but lots of bands have done that (the first being black sabbath to the best of my knowledge). Very few have let their drummer consistently take the lead role --- even during verses. Playing through, over, against, between ... almost never repeating the same part for more than 16 measures in a row. That's Mastodon.
This song reminds me of some of the great stuff on Leviathan. And its got some nice guitar work, nothing too shredding but quite powerful nonetheless. The singing here is in a similar vein I believe to Leviathan but perhaps is a bit clearer. It took them awhile to believe in their vocals enough to set them free in the mix.

CURL OF THE BURL
Piss officially taken. Some disco influence here. Still crazy shit going on in the guitars in the chorus, some doubling back and cutting the time. But what the fuck are they singing about and why? Is this the first Mastodon party anthem since... ever??? (maybe the song with the scratching in Blood Mountain). The middle section opens it up ... just a bit... into that alice in chains space --- at least guitar wise --- but we are still neurotically propelled forward by the drums. the drums and mostly the snare, which is used throughout the bands career as a rapper uses a turntable ... to control the space --- to ripple time. Its all about the snare with this band.

BLASTEROID
what are these titles? what am i supposed to do with this southern rock intro? wild stuff. i need some more chivas. I think Brent Hinds is a great guitarist. He doesn't always make it out of the mix --- but on the last 2 albums the mix is cleaned up and you can better appreciate all the different styles he can throw at you and always sound unforced.

STARGASM
beep beep whistlestar pop. and some nicko mcbrain type tom rolls. very dramatic. where are we going with this one??? If we are playing the which album is this an outtake from then obviously its from crack the skye... isn't it? That album was originally rumoured to be about rasputin and then ... they decided that was too obvious??? I wish I had a lyric sheet for the Brent songs cos its not easy to hear wtf he is singing. oh wait "you're on fire" x 8 ... of course that's what he's singing (?!?!) The rhythm guitar in this song, and in this band, is damn propelling. In some bands like Maiden its the bass but in Mastodon its the rhythm guitar which is the tank treads and the bass is like underground party streamers of color. Buried under six feet of muddy fuzz of course. That's just the way it is. oh and by the way "you're on fire"

OCTOPUS HAS NO FRIENDS
from the title i am going to guess its an aqua hunger teens outtake? Great vocal layering, they obviously learned a lot doing the last record. I'm a little shocked by the poppiness of it all.

ALL THE HEAVY LIFTING
"can you show me where to find the stream - i've been told before that the water's clean"
great guitar playing in the verse --- the chorus reminds me (for the first 4 or 5 chords) of the track "public enema number one" from no prayer for the dying - and why shouldn't it be so seeing as Brann Dailor is a massive Maiden fan. or maybe I am and I am making a connection that doesn't exist. apparently. but wasn't it fun activating dead cells of my brain which haven't been heard from since that night in January 1991 at the GMU Patriot Center when I saw eddie live for the first time. Actually the last time too since in 1996 at Hammerjacks there wasn't an eddie. No room on stage for that stuff. Just a raw club gig with Fear Factory opening. But this is supposed to be about Mastodon and they just switched gears on me in this song. and then again. in the space of like 10 seconds. "we didn't come this far just to turn around". true enough. nobody is gonna confuse this stuff with an attempt to suck in a wider audience --- this is more indulgence, a purging of the spirits, abstract painting on an invisible canvas. fade out. and i'll shut up now.

THE HUNTER
I guess its not a song about Ted Nugent. But it has a cool Mastodonian acoustic + electric guitar double tracked arpeggioed out opening. cool. This is how phasing should be used. Phasing should take you back to 1978. Or 1968. Or something. "All the love I make is equal to the love I take" ... now they are inverting Paul McCartney. Damn, they are bigger now after Crack the Skye. And that's the cleanest vocals Troy has laid down... ever? Confidence in hearing their own voices --- a good sign. Classic Brent leads. The guitar part will remind you of another old gem that appeared --- oh wait --- on their last album (The Czar). But why quit while you're ahead. And they're ahead by all measurements. This song is the best on the album so far. They front-loaded the album with oddities in order to prove something... but what?

DRY BONE VALLEY
Brent channels the edge? just for a bit. Then these guys show what they learned from Josh Homme in the vocal dept. Vocally, Mastodon have gotten better with each album. You can hear what they are singing, and they actually have some nice harmonies now.

THE THICKENING
A song about Jeff Hanneman in the 90s? No, no, just kidding. Seriously? the second half of this album is twice as good as the first. Better songs, better lines, better singing, what does it mean? Usually by the way with this band its the opposite. The first 4 or 5 songs on Leviathan are just the best streak of throat grabbing metal awesomeness ever. Blood mountain opens damn strong as well too before it goes WEIRD. Here for some reason, the album keeps getting better and better as it goes along.

CREATURE LIVES
Maybe this one belonged in the first half of the album. WTF. I don't get it.

SPECTRELIGHT
And we're back. Just when you thought Mastodon had gone all theatrical on us --- they reemerge from behind the barn with a freshly sharpened axe and some furious forward pedaling rhythm.

BEDAZZLED FINGERNAILS
The bass shines in the song, but it shines underneath, in the dark, beneath all the other moving parts. But the bass playing here carries the verses and makes the song.

THE SPARROW
Starting out like it could be another instrumental Brent album closer... is it? Its not an acoustic instrumental but it is a mid-tempo strolling trip through coolness. Groovy lead guitar, reverberated vocal ah-ing... its an atmospheric curtain coming down on this interesting, although perhaps not very consistent album.

overall: 3.5 stars. too weird to be their greatest but many moments of brilliance. Can't wait for their sixth album.









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  3. CURL OF THE BURL sounds like a total ode to the Oz-man.
    amazing album. I can't believe how drums-oriented this album is - they're really in your face but that's no bad news since he's a really interesting drummer. never a dull moment with him and with this great band.
    I think Opeth and them deliver a new generation of sophisticated, well-crafted metal (is it still metal?).

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