[Reprise / Warner Bros.; 2011]

On any good to great album, there will be at least one moment that really startles you; a moment that makes you think “man, this band is really, really good.” For me, on The Hunter, it’s the whole of “Curl of the Burl” where everything seems to be secondary to the infectious groove that runs throughout the entire length of the song. It’s moments like this, and others, that start to prove that Mastodon are fast becoming more than just a thrash/sludge metal band.

After 2009’s mega-successful Crack The Skye, Mastodon have done what any self-respecting band should do after a career triumph: move forward. Gone (for the most part) are the progressive metal opuses that worked so well for the band, replaced with a few more streamlined offerings that set a clear trajectory for the future, but also hearken back to earlier albums. They’re the kind of songs you can’t help but love; played at breakneck speeds and packed full of bruising riffery, powerful drums and astonishing fretwork. It’s this kind of stuff that gives Mastodon that universal appeal. I’ve already mentioned “Curl of the Burl” so I won’t bore anymore with that one, so how about “Blasteroid”; a mash-up of a dissonant, thrashy chorus and a hook driven verse section. “Stargasm” starts slow but then kicks into gear, resembling part two of Crack The Skye’s “The Czar.” The first half of The Hunter is literally a tour de force of everything just mentioned in those two songs, expertly mixed together to sound completely fresh.

After Crack The Skye, there was no-way Mastodon could completely dispense with their progressive tendencies though. If you liked or loved the aforementioned album, tracks like “The Hunter” and “Creature Lives” will most certainly appeal; the former being a meandering and ominous sounding effort with distant vocals giving the song a proggy feel, while the latter is a complete oddity opening with laughter, futuristic beeps and what sounds like the THX deep note being warped into all kinds of pitches, giving way to a song of purely epic proportions. Closer “The Sparrow” is very much alike “Creature Lives,” bar the weird intro.

I once came across someone who lamented the fact that Mastodon were critical darlings whereas their contemporaries were being left behind in their wake, but The Hunter is all the reasons why Mastodon are striding ahead of anyone else on the contemporary metal scene. The band appear to have an innate ability to keep their music sounding so new and vital, and this is so apparent on The Hunter. They can write a melodic guitar line, play the living daylights out of it, then make a complete about turn in the same song without sounding contrived. Sure, sometimes Brann Dailor overdrums. Yeah, sometimes you can’t even hear the lyrics, and when you do they don’t make sense (although that’s improving by album). But the music is endearing, and most of the time spectacular and that’s a great feature to have in any rock band.