3 stars (out of 4)
The Atlanta quartet’s fifth studio album, “The Hunter” (Reprise), is in some ways a more concise, less weighty effort. There’s no big concept, unlike previous song cycles such as “Leviathan” (2004), “Blood Mountain” (2006) and “Crack the Skye” (2009) that established the band as metal’s heaviest new hitters.
That’s not to say “The Hunter” lacks ambition. Once again, the band shows its technical acumen in a variety of formats, from the blistering speed metal of “Blasteroid” to the dreamy psychedelia of “The Sparrow.” Riffs dominate rather than the twisting arrangements that characterized some of its longer-form work, but there are touches of progressive ambition: the space-rock effects of “Stargasm,” the choir-like vocals of “The Creature Lives.” Fantasy dungeons-and-dragons subject matter alternates with themes touching on spirituality and mortality. Unlike many of their metal brethren, who obscure the lyrics with cartoonish growling, Mastodon’s Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor keep melody paramount with their harmonies.
Whether charging triumphantly “into the afterlife” on “Spectrelight” or shaking an angry fist at the Reaper in “The Ruiner,” Mastodon bypasses concept in favor of durable songs. If not quite as mind-blowing as its best work, “The Hunter” provides a solid summation of Mastodon’s musical range.
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