Published Sep 30, 2011It's with much anticipation that Georgian extreme metal-gone-prog-metal kings Mastodon drop any new release, given that they've ― somehow ― managed to become one of underground metal's breakout success stories. And new album The Hunter, (their fifth) is going to propel them to whole new levels of success, taking as it does a sense of groove, song and purpose, filtering it through a Queens of the Stone Age-esque sense of swagger, and maintaining the musical dexterity and killer chops the band is known for. But it's streamlined, the songs attack instead of toy and tease, the whole thing, really, a shocking display of change and a band just feeling confident doing what they want to do. Drummer Brann Dailor doesn't find it as shocking as listeners will, given that he's sat with the material and watched it grow, but he still admits (before the conversation inevitably turns to talk about Ozzy and Judas Priest), that the shift in sound is a bit unusual.
The new album is so different. To me, anyway.
It's pretty weird. It sort of happens. Music sort of happens, what are you going to do? We can say all day long that we're going to make this kind of record, then you get in there… it'd be a shame to put limitations on it. We try to let it be its own thing and apologize for it later (laughs).
When you sit back and put it on, is it shocking to you how different it is?
No, not really. It's hard for me to really tell. It's not like I'm hearing it the way everyone else is hearing it. This was the first album we ever recorded where we weren't 100 percent… in the past we'd gone over and gone over and gone over stuff non-stop and made little tweaks here and there and been so overly prepared when we went into the studio, so there were no stones left unturned when we went in. This time we left some loose ends because we really wanted to get in the studio and get something done, we were so close to being at that point, but then we had to leave for this tour that started in the beginning of June, and we knew that it was going to take at least a month and a half to track the whole thing and get the whole thing done. So our feeling was, well, let's get in there and start laying down some drum tracks and we'll take about six days in L.A. to get that all set in stone and we'll just go in and record 15 songs and see how far we can get. We ended up finishing the day before we left for tour.
To me the album is definitely more… maybe not raw, but it doesn't sound so clinical and meticulous. There's some kind of energy there. Do you think this recording process contributed to that?
Definitely. For sure. Some of the parts we came up with on the spot. I think that definitely added to the recording, that it hadn't really been played yet. There were a few songs like that, where we added bridges right at that moment, on the spot. That kind of spontaneity is something we've never really done before. We did do that when we did the soundtrack to Jonah Hex. That might have had something to do with giving us a little more confidence with trusting our knee-jerk moments.
Do you think your new material is a reaction to your longer, more complex material? Were you getting tired of playing that stuff? Did you want to rock out a bit?
Yeah, absolutely. I guess it's a backlash on ourselves, almost. We'd been playing the Crack the Skye material for the better part of two years, playing it every night. We wanted to let loose a little bit, I guess. And just, maybe… I don't know (laughs). I think it speaks for itself; that's where our heads were at.
On "The Czar" on Crack the Skye, there was a moment where you guys locked into this groove and to me it always sounded like something off of [Ozzy Osbourne's] Bark at the Moon or something. It's where the lyric is "by the light of the moon," you know that part?
To me, that small moment of that song is the best part of that whole album. There's all this complex stuff going on, then there's that, and it just hits you so hard. To me, this new album is like a whole album of that.
It's weird that you say that, because that was the exact pinpoint moment that we talked about as being one of the most fun moments that we had playing that record start to finish. We'd get to that part and it was so much fun. We'd look around and just be like, "Yeah, this is awesome." It's like a funk groove or something. So when it came time to write new music we sort of pinpointed on that exact part, so that's cool that you picked up on that. We just thought, it's really fun to play that part, so let's do that more. But, yeah, there you go. You win.
There's something else about the album which is a bit harder to put my finger on. I grew up in the '80s as a metal fan, so to me there's this kind of nostalgic feel to it. It doesn't sound like '80s metal, but there's something about the vibe or maybe it's all the rocking out, but to me there was just this '80s metal feel to it, but not in a cheesy or forced way. Did you find any of that or is that just me?
No, I think that's in there, you know what I mean? I think it has the pop sensibility that Ozzy had in the early or mid '80s, with Bark at the Moon or Blizzard of Ozz or Diary or even Ultimate Sin. It's in there, maybe Priest, Defenders of the Faith. I think that that's a bigger part of everybody in the band's musical life than they think. Everybody wants to cite all this prog rock and all this other stuff but I think the stuff that's really deeply embedded with all of us being in our mid-30s, the '80s stuff is stuff that everybody was listening to. It's definitely in there.
If you're a guy about our age, that stuff is pretty deep inside you if you grew up with it.
Oh, yeah, yeah. If you grew up listening to metal, that was the jumping off point for a lot of kids. Ozzy was pretty accessible and mainstream at the time.
And it's funny hearing you guys put out an album now that's more back to basics, because I know I certainly have found in my life in the past couple of years I've wanted more back to basic and less crazy technical music. More AC/DC. Maybe I'm getting stupider.
Yeah, we're de-evolving (laughs).
Or just getting old.
I don't know. That's what we wanted and that's what came out. We just went with it. We didn't say, oh, we need a math part to come in the middle to make it a more Mastodon sounding song. It is what it is and there's very little we can do to change it once it starts going.