The Hunter (Reprise)
After nearly a decade of increasing complexity, Atlanta master heshers Mastodon sort of dial it back on their fifth album. "Sort of" because, while the songs on The Hunter might be shorter and more concise than they were on 2009's Crack the Skye, the new disc is not a return to rock 'n' roll basics or the band's roots in the Southern sludge underground. The Hunter is crammed full of ideas and invention; the lack of a unifying concept—like the astral projection narrative on Crack the Skye or the Moby Dick allusions on 2004's Leviathan—seems to have freed the band to head off in any direction, from the space-rock ballad "The Sparrow" or the funky QOTSA-style arena rocker "Curl of the Burl," or even the synth-orchestral weirdness of "The Creature Lives."
There is still plenty of heavy stuff here—opening track "Black Tongue," "Dry Bone Valley," and "Spectrelight," which serves up a thrashing unheard since Leviathan—but the real accomplishment on The Hunter is that the band matches its trademark heft and technical wizardry with a heretofore unimaginable accessibility. Both Crack the Skye and 2006's Blood Mountain offered hints, scattered throughout the crunching and raging, of what radio-friendly Mastodon might sound like; here it is, fully formed, at the heart of The Hunter on "Blasteroid," "Stargasm," "Octopus Has No Friends," and "All the Heavy Lifting," and all without sacrificing any intensity or creativity. Where Crack the Skye was the culmination of nearly a decade of artistic evolution, The Hunter is a brain-bending mutation that opens a whole new world.