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Positive Feedback ISSUE 58
november/december 2011


Mastodon, The Hunter
by Nicholas G. Taylor



It's hard to believe twenty years have passed since Nirvana released the iconic and incendiary album the music industry, and my teenage self, needed in Nevermind. I was 14 then and my taste in music, while pedestrian, mainly included the giants of thrash metal and progressive rock. Like others my age, my interests included the fastidious pursuit of girls, muscle cars with eleven second quarter mile times, 1000 watt car amplifiers and finding bodegas selling alcohol or cigarettes or magazines with centerfolds to minors. The order of said pursuits largely depended on the day and virtually all were colossal failures. Oscar Wilde was right. "Youth is wasted on the young."

Nostalgia is hitting hard as I ponder the last two decades and just how much influence Nevermind had and continues to have over me. Nirvana ultimately opened the door to a broader range of music, and conversely closed the door on my old mainstays. It would be years until I considered listening to thrash metal again. I was convinced there wasn't a need as the best music thrash metal had to offer was well in the past and it's prime. That was true until I discovered the Atlanta quartet Mastodon.

With every release from Mastodon, the atavistic thrashers rejuvenate the genre with music sounding both wholly original and an homage to the thrash metal overlords of the eighties and nineties. Always a critical darling, each album release from Mastodon focuses mainly on singular themes or concepts. Leviathan's (2004) themes are about obsession and loosely centers the album around Herman Melville's famous novel Moby Dick. Blood Mountain (2006) features an ethereal adventure up the Blood Mountain. Crack the Skye (2009) is more ambitious, with the size and scale of Rush's sci-fi ode to Ayn Rand in 2112. It tells the story of a quadriplegic's ability to astral project and looses his connection to his body on Earth. Mastodon's latest release, The Hunter, has no singular themes or concepts making this a major departure for them.

Without the scope or vision of their previous albums, each song from The Hunter is more accessible for the listener. But because this is Mastodon, the songs are also bigger and sensational. There are full choruses, Theremin, Moog synthesizers as well as heavy doses of pure acid rock. The Hunter is thirteen songs of multifarious thrash metal beginning with the charged "Black Tongue." Like the rest of the album, "Black Tongue" is full of heavy riffs, proficient drumming and foreboding lyrics like "Death of the, You own the darkness, And taken my sight."

Mastodon have stated The Hunter is like a mix tape of their songs and because it's slightly uneven it also sounds like it. Incorporated with the trenchant blitz of metal is the sobering title track about the death of guitarist and vocalist Brent Hinds brother who suffered a heart attack while hunting. This is not the first time Mastodon used music to deal with the death of a family member. The suicide of drummer Brann Dailor's sister is featured in the creative fabric of Crack the Skye. The exhaustion of making that album may explain why The Hunter isn't a concept album like other Mastodon releases. The heart can only take so much. The biggest departure comes from "The Creature Lives," beginning with spaced out special effects; it feels right at home on a Pink Floyd or Rush album but sounds out of place here.

The remaining tracks off The Hunter continues to push the throttle and halfway through "Dry Bone Valley," you realize The Hunter is a road album--the kind of album to be played at dusk with it's percussive and galloping thrash thundering over a redlining V8 on an open black top. Now if I could only get my car to do an eleven second quarter mile.