So much was made of the proggy complexity of Mastodon’s 2009 album, Crack The Skye, that something got overlooked: Frontman Brent Hinds and crew have evolved into seriously good songwriters. Where Crack The Skye is a concept album that pays tribute to the deceased sister of drummer Brann Dailor, The Hunter teems with songs about meth-head lumberjacks, nursing babies, and fucking in outer space. No ambitious, overarching narrative links all this; the only thing uniting The Hunter’s patchwork of tracks is the fact that the same four men stitched them together.
Granted, Mastodon has long chained itself to the concept-album format, and The Hunter feels like an emancipation party. “Stargasm” not only extols the virtues of galactic sex, its pelvic torque and sumptuous atmosphere tap into a primal, classic-rock groove. Hinds’ Leviathan-era obsession with the sea resurfaces in “Octopus Has No Friends” and “Spectrelight,” but musically, the songs split their seams with soaring choruses and frenzied, melodic fretwork. And on “Bedazzled Fingernails,” the group’s science-fiction fetish takes the form of chrome-plated-android-metal. Hinds hasn’t delivered a logical sequel to Crack The Skye, but The Hunter triumphs in a less profound, more immediate way: It’s the first truly fun Mastodon album.