“That was a place that I never thought I'd visit in my entire life. We get there and there was 30-40,000 people from all over the Middle Eastern world.” Mastodon's bassist Troy Sanders was telling me about a recent trip to Dubai. “We met people from Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Oman and Jordan. It made the statement true [that] music is the universal language of the world; that was very obvious to me when we played and had all of those fans from all of those countries pull together for a concert. It was absolutely incredible and mind-blowing.”
“We're throwing out a mixed bag this time around,” Sanders said. “We are playing half of our new record, The Hunter, and then we are playing three or four from each of the previous four records. It's gonna have something for everybody."
Each of Mastodon's previous records have featured a theme. Fire was the word for Remission, their first (and hardest) effort. Water was the central theme for Leviathan, a concept album based on the story of Moby Dick. Earth was the substance of Blood Mountain and on Crack The Skye, it was air. For The Hunter, Mastodon decided on wood. The theme is literally carved right into the album's cover.
“We have a lot of songs that deal with wood and forests onThe Hunter and we got our friend AJ Fosik to carve this massive triple-jawed minotaur out of wood. [He was] working on the piece as we were making the record,” said Sanders.
The music is a return to the meatier sounds of Leviathan. “Black Tongue” and “Curl of the Burl” kick off the record with an attack so neck-snappingly heavy that the ultra-prog of their previous two efforts is almost forgotten.
The Thin Lizzy-on-steroids sound combined with Sanders' God of Thunder bass and Brann Dailor's Neil Peart-ian drum workouts still propel Mastodon's music.
“Our previous record Crack The Skye was very layered, very emotional, very complex and follows this very bizarre storyline. So, after writing Crack The Skye, recording Crack The Skye and then touring Crack The Skye for over two years, when it came time to write new material, our immediate reaction was to go a different route,” Sanders said. “We never want to make the same record twice, and after Crack The Skye - after we had just achieved every thing we had wanted to do - it was time to ignite a fresh fire in our bellies. So, we took a sharp left turn and reinvented ourselves. It was a very natural reaction.”
While prog seeps into The Hunter in songs like “Stargasm” and “All The Heavy Lifting,” the album moves all over the place stylistically. From the breathless brutality of “Spectrelight” to the southern-fried head-smash boogie of “Blasteroid” and “Creature Lives,” this is Mastodon's most accomplished set of tracks. The album's title track is a straight-up Alice In Chains homage, while “The Sparrow” is probably one of the band's most beautifully moving songs.
“I feel that everything we've done is part of this natural evolution that is and has been Mastodon. We want to keep carving out our own unique path, and so far, I think, we've been right on course,” Sanders said, proudly. “We have been able grow with each other for the last 11 years and we are more aligned with each other more then ever before. I think things are getting easier for us, because we've evolved with each other as friends and as a band at the same time over the years.”