Album review: Mastodon, ‘The Hunter’ (Reprise)

October 13, 2011

The knock on Mastodon in some corners of the head-banging underground is that the Atlanta quartet is the “acceptable face of metal”—the one hard-rock band that’s okay for hipsters to admit they like. But from the beginning, the group wanted to combine classic, melodic, old-school metal a la Black Sabbath with wild, post-punk/art-rock/some would call it “prog” experimentation a la the Melvins.

If the group won some followers when it pummeled the masses in Union Park at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival, well, it wasn’t Bon Iver fans filling the infamous North Side ballroom and expressing their undying devotion during the recording of the 2011 concert disc, Live at the Aragon. And, in the end, the parsing of intentions and debating of authenticity are irrelevant when the music hits this hard.

While Leviathan, the band’s 2004 heavy-metal retelling of Moby-Dick, remains its masterpiece, its fifth studio album is no less satisfying for its lack of a grand concept. Here, guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds, bassist Troy Sanders, and drummer Brann Dailor collaborate with producer Mike Elizondo, a frequent presence at the top of the pop charts, with credits ranging from Fiona Apple to Maroon 5 to 50 Cent. Yet this is no move toward the middle of the road.

Elizondo doesn’t soften the band’s sound so much as he amplifies the melodies that always have been the group’s secret weapon, in the massive guitar riffs as well as in the harmony vocals. And if, perhaps, he steered the fearsome foursome away from complicated progressive-rock time signature, he certainly did nothing to soften Dailor’s machine-gun spray-of-death drumming.

You want deep meaning? “Stargasm” is about sex in space, we probably can agree, but what the chorus ,“Take the hand/Guide the way/Far away/Find the truth/Always” has to do with the title “Octopus Has No Friends” is anybody’s guess. It doesn’t matter. “Blasteroid,” “Black Tongue,” “All the Heavy Lifting”—heck, every one of these 13 cuts—are all about the sound and the fury, which ultimately are as propulsive, irresistible, and undeniable as a rocket launch.

On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS.