Indulging in some heavy, heavy music is a rite of passage for a lot of young men. Most of us can recall a period of adolescence saturated with double-bass drums and dropped tunings. If you’re 15 and even remotely pissed off, metal will sweep you right up, cradle you in the warm bosom of Satan and shut out everything else.
One of my favorite non-metal musicians (Jim James of My Morning Jacket) recently put it this way: “It’s a darkness you can’t deny/but it don’t belong in a grown-up mind.” And that’s just kind of how it goes; you live and breathe it for a while and then just grow out of it.
That’s because, for the most part, it’s nonsense; just recycled and grossly mutated ideas that trickled down from blues-oriented pioneers of the genre like Sabbath and Zeppelin.
Then there’s Mastodon. The Atlanta quartet has established themselves as the “thinking-man’s metal band,” a title earned from critics by crafting an intricate, technical and creative take on metal.
Since the release of “Remission” in 2002, the band has created three huge-sounding concept albums based on classical themes; a salute to the long-standing relationship between metal and the ethereal fantasy world.
With their fifth album, “The Hunter,” the sludge-rockers turn down the brutality dial and present what drummer Brann Dailor described as a “stripped down, super-heavy Zeppelin.” The comparison seems accurate; the instrumentation is indeed super heavy throughout but often melodic enough to be widely appealing.
My favorite characteristics of the genre itself shine through on “The Hunter” with a fine-tuned zeal. Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are masters of their craft; they write the gnarliest, most powerful riffs but effortlessly switch to delicate acoustic finger-picking on songs like “The Sparrow.” The crunchy bounce off the riff in “Curl of the Burl” is one of the most memorable pieces of guitar work, sounding very much like early 70s Sabbath.
Drummer Brann Dailor is Mastodon’s ace in the hole. He rules on every album they’ve put out thus far and he doesn’t disappoint this time either.
His talent behind the kit adds the goose bump-inducing punch behind every song, especially on tracks like the opener “Black Tongue” and the spook-tinged “Stargasm.”
The weakest part of the record is the vocals, which is sort of a personal view that I hold on the genre as a whole. Everything about metal is over the top; the way the instruments are played, the subject matter, all of it.
The sense of humor that metal musicians have to come equipped with is much appreciated, but I always have trouble digesting the singing.
The riffs, bass lines and drumming are what makes metal so fun to listen to, but the vocal aspect can be ignored. That aside, the record is an impressive piece of artistry.
While previous Mastodon records were tied together with an obvious concept or thread, “The Hunter” is dotted with experimentation.
Each song stands on its own, both thematically and aesthetically.
Already having solidified their position as chief ambassadors for metal, it seems the band is starting to have some fun and branch out.
As a half-committed fan of metal, I can’t say for sure whether this is something previous fans will be upset or excited about; but I can say that Mastodon is continuing to make records that can be enjoyed by any fan of heavier music.