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Mastodon 

Atlanta metallions continue to stumble on new album

click to enlarge CINDY FREY
  • Cindy Frey

Mastodon

with Dillinger Escape Plan, Red Fang
7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1
House of Blues
407-934-2583
hob.com
$24-$26

The Hunter
(Reprise)

During the last decade, Atlanta’s Mastodon shot their way to the top of the metal world on the twin barrels of stylistic daring and sheer brutality, making them one of the most cited exemplars of all that’s good about the genre. But lately, they’ve ventured steadily into wildly indulgent prog waters.

The Hunter, however, is a return of sorts to rock basics. Occasional weirdness still lingers like the touches of haunted house psychedelia on “Stargasm” and the robotic vocals of “Bedazzled Fingernails,” but concision once again reigns with songs mostly clocking in at three to four minutes. Moreover, this work is notably diverse in flavor, sometimes disorientingly so. And, unfortunately, the results are mixed.

At its best, the album honors the core virtues that have distinguished Mastodon in the triumphant stabbing of “Black Tongue,” the impressive mathematics of “Bedazzled Fingernails,” the Torche-aping “Blasteroid” and especially the deliciously thundering “Spectrelight,” which features the excellent vocals of Neurosis’ Scott Kelly.

As good an idea as it is for them to get back to fundamentals, they make some questionable style choices in this phase of their evolution. In the absence of signature traits like epic scale and viscera-clutching ferocity, their hunger too often sounds diluted and their force blunted. Worse, their metal and punk edges are occasionally replaced by some (gulp) cheesy inclinations. The title track is slathered in mainstream brooding, “Dry Bone Valley” has off-puttingly banal hard-rock flair and “Curl of the Burl” is slick Southern rock tailor-made for the purgatory of modern radio. The only uncharacteristic voyage that stands on its own is the sweeping Southern melancholia of “The Sparrow.”

The Hunter is a strident step into more conventional pop territory, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in itself. But for a band that proved you could be commercially successful without making commercial music, that feels like a step back.

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