:: Mastodon ::
By Joe Kovack
Sometimes in the midst of great tragedy, the best thing you can do is “just close your eyes, and pretend that everything’s fine.” While Mastodon sings this on their latest release, it’s clear that the group takes a different approach to life’s struggles, and instead rolls up their sleeves and loses themselves in their art.
The Atlanta-based quartet has been revolutionizing the hard rock/prog-metal scene since their inception in the early 2000s. Melding deep conceptual and classic literary themes with heavy progressive riffs and intense drumming that shakes the ground like their namesake did millennia ago, they’ve created a world of their own, pushing the boundaries of themselves and their sound with each successive album.
They’re a self-described working/touring band that has been on the road for the better part of ten years — most recently finishing a hectic European trek last year, before writing and recording their fifth studio album The Hunter.
In a recent interview with the Marquee, drummer, vocalist and songwriter Brann Dailor talked about the intensity of touring and how the creative drive is a hard one to dismiss, even when tragedy begs otherwise.
“It’s been pretty wild, actually,” Dailor said. “Lots of highs and lots of lows; we’ve had members be hospitalized, members kind of losing their minds out there, which can happen when you’re away for too long. But as touring musicians that’s what we signed up for. The response to [2009’s] Crack the Skye was great, we gained a lot of new fans. But it was wild. Then we got home from all the touring and asked ourselves, ‘Now what do we do?’ Got to write another record, you know?”
Initially deciding to take a year off after touring for nearly two-and-a-half years in support of Crack the Skye, it wouldn’t take long before these metal ass-kickers succumbed to their natural inclination to write and play music. “We were all pretty burned out from touring for the last ten years and just felt that we needed to chill. But low and behold, about two weeks later someone suggested we go down to the studio and just mess around a little bit,” Dailor recalled. “Then things started rolling and we just started plowing through songs and it became really fun and everybody was reenergized and ready to dive back in. Because deep down that’s really what we do — hang out together and write music,” Dailor said.
The Hunter steps away from the conventional Mastodon album. Not focusing on one central theme, as the majority of the band’s past releases have, the songwriting on this release has more room to breath with the limitless possibilities that exist outside of a particular theme. But that’s not to say that the album doesn’t have a couple of common threads running through it.
Unfortunately one theme that continues to come up in Mastodon’s work is the concept of loss, and The Hunter, which at one point had the working title Brother is, in fact, an emotional work of art that pays homage to lead singer/guitarist Brent Hinds’ brother, who died during a hunting trip in 2010. Sadder still, this is not the first time a Mastodon album was a tribute to a lost sibling. Crack the Skye was dedicated to Dailor’s sister who died when he was a teenager. And like the album before it The Hunter became a conduit for Hinds and the guys to channel their emotions in a constructive way that was not only therapeutic but inspirational as well.
“[When] Brent’s brother passed away in late December it wasn’t necessarily a curve ball, but it is a curve ball. It was really sad, tragic and fucked up. So I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. But luckily for Brent he has this band and his art, and he was really able to submerse himself into that and his guitar playing. And me and him just worked hard on writing stuff and were really spontaneous together and we just came up with all this stuff pretty quickly. I feel like Brent sort of needed that. You need something to do,” Dailor said.
Despite that emotional foundation, Dailor claims that the album also has some of the lightest material that the group has ever written. One song, “Curl of the Burl,” which, according to an interview Hinds did with Spin, is about meth-heads harvesting wood from forests to sell at Lowe’s for drug money. With that “silly” material comes what could be some of Mastodon’s most accessible songs to date. With no tracks topping six minutes, it’s a record devoid of the ten-minute epic metal jams they have become known for. The consensus among the members was to create an album that was direct and to the point; a set of songs meant to be taken at face value with just the music.
“We did four concept records in a row and the feeling was that we had gone as far as we can go in that direction,” said Dailor, who is the chief lyricist for the group, as well as a classic literature enthusiast whose knowledge in that realm has helped greatly in crafting their themed work. “And not to say that we wouldn’t do another concept in the future, we just didn’t want to be predictable and I think everyone sort of thought they had us figured out in a certain way. But we wanted to completely change and I felt we needed to change the artist as well. And all that really rejuvenated us and lifted the spirits of the group. It felt brand new again. It was like being married for 15 years and [having]the same old sex, and then you say, ‘Hey, why don’t you put on a wig and some clown shoes, let’s change it up a little bit,” laughed Dailor.
The Hunter is an album filled with emotion, but also an album of new sounds and rhythms from a band that has perfected a heavy-hitting progressive metal sound befit for the ancient behemoths they so easily embody. With catchy licks and riffs, and vocals that fans can actually understand, it’s a new Mastodon that’s still rooted in the foundation of intensely intricate drumming and dueling guitars, but some of the material on The Hunter lacks the complexity of albums past. “We took the easy road, and we’re unapologetic about it,” Dailor said. “That’s just what we felt we needed as people, and we love the music that’s on there and we really had a good time putting it together because it wasn’t as much of a labor intensive experience like it has been in the past.” Dailor said.
But fans shouldn’t worry about the band mellowing out or not taking it seriously, for The Hunter still has its twists and turns and enough head banging potential to leave your neck sore for days.
:: Mastodon ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: November 9 ::
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