Man, Mastodon's Crack The Skye is a hard album to top. Heavy, progressive, psychedelic, multilayered, complex – any concept album that knits together such disparate elements as Rasputin and astral travel has gotta be followed up by something pretty big. Just like Crack The Skye, The Hunter (Roadrunner) finds Mastodon doing what they do best – combining lyrical and musical creativity – yet the approach is different, the songs are shorter, the themes less interwoven and the results more eclectic. The Hunter is a crucial album for the band. After the strength and influence of Crack The Skye, The Hunter has to prove it wasn't a fluke – it just has to.
Guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds are one of the most interesting and creative duos in modern metal. Kelliher says the band's aim for this album was to create simple, easy songs, compared to the progressive mindfuck that was Crack The Skye. "Any time we write a record together, it's not really like, 'How are we gonna do this? Let's plan it out, get the blueprints out, let's write an essay. Everybody chip in,'" the affable axeman says. Instead, he and drummer Brann Dailor got together to sift through riffs they'd worked up over the last few years. "I'll play a riff and he'll say 'Oh y'know what? I've got a riff that's in that same key and I think it'd go great with that,'" Kelliher says. "Then we put those two together and then Brent might show up and he's like 'What are you guys doing?' And we're like, 'Oh we're playing these couple of riffs together that are friends.' And he's like, 'Cool!' and he'll play a riff that goes along with that.' And the next thing you know, you've got a song."
It's a songwriting method that the band hasn't employed for quite some time. Crack The Skye was mostly comprised of riffs written by Brend Hinds, minus a couple here and there contributed by the band. This time around the process was more scattered. "Now that I've built a small studio here in our practice space, we have everything mic'd up all the time so that when we have an idea it's like, 'Hey, push record and let's fuckin' get that idea down.' That way we can get back to it later if we need to and can't remember it. We've been utilising the ProTools and just trying to write as many riffs as possible and get them down, guitar, bass and drums, and even just record that one riff and just see what happens if something else comes out of it. If not, we put it on the back burner until something else we've created comes along that fits that in there too. And we just pull it off the back burner and put it in the song." The song The Creature Lives is all Dailor, while Black Tongue was mostly written by Kelliher, with Dailor throwing in the opening riff. All The Heavy Lifting is Kelliher's, while Hinds contributed the punky, upbeat Blasteroid. "That song is just such a real spontaneous thing to me," Kelliher says. When I tell him that tracks like Blasteroid mean The Hunter is one of the few metal albums that my non-metal Mrs likes, Kelliher is pleased. "Well that’s what we’re aiming for: housewives. We call the new record ‘housewife rock.’ It's wifecore."
A hallmark of Kelliher's guitar style is his willingness to combine low, grunting notes with celestial-sounding high ones. It's a style that puts him at diametric opposites to most metal axemen, who get off on tuning lower and lower. "I'm a big fan of dissonant notes," he says. "Instead of hitting a fretted, I dunno, D note, I'll hit the open D instead, no matter if it's easier to hit the fretted one. Just hit the open one and let it ring whether you're playing, say, a half-step down, so there's a dissonant wave thing going on, a kind of 'bow-wow-wow' thing. I don't know where it comes from. I think a lot of old punk rock and kinda noisy things, Sonic Youth, Pink Floyd… I don't know, it's just a very comfortable way of getting a full chord out of every string on the guitar without killing yourself."
Besides guitar, another of Kellier's big loves is Star Wars, a geeky passion we both share. So of course the talk turns to a galaxy far, far away. "Y’know, I’m a fuckin’ Star Wars fanatic," Kelliher blurts. "I’ve got all the tattoos, all the toys… It’s like Beyond Thunderdome with the fuckin’ toy collection." He's in two minds about the recently-released Blu-Ray set, which features some controversial tweaks to the original feels. "My buddy had just told me about the spoiler – Darth Vader saying ‘Noooooo!’ as he’s throwing the emperor off the fuckin’ thing, and he was like 'Fuck all that, it’s a bunch of bullshit. Can’t they just leave it alone?' But after I saw the fuckin’ commercials I was like, 'Man, it looks so awesome!' I’m not gonna lie, I was completely sucked in by George Lucas once again. I’ve already seen the movies like fifty trillion times. I’ve got them on every format – Beta, VHS, LaserDisk – you name it. I’ve got every version. And it’s a shame that they had to fuck with the originals. They should have a Blu-ray of just the original movies separately if you want to watch those. Don’t fuck with it, man. Don’t put fuckin’ Hayden Christensen in where Darth Vader’s ghost was at the end of Jedi! What the fuck is that? Everybody aged except for him? What the fuck does that mean? Why? That’s just a sell-out. It makes me mad! I can go off on that shit. I was like, ‘What is that, a Walmart fuckin’ special?’ Maybe they should have done a young Yoda. Maybe Phyllis Diller or somebody could have done that."
MASTODON are appearing at the sold out Soundwave Festival taking place at the Melbourne Showgrounds on Friday March 2, as well as a Sidewave at Billboard The Venue on Monday February 27. The Hunter is out now on Roadrunner Records.