MASTODON’S BRENT HINDS AND BILL KELLIHER TALK ABOUT THEIR
CONCEPT METAL’S SLOW-BUT-SURE CRAWL FROM PRIMORDIAL
SLUDGE TO THE MORE MELODIC AND ARTSY APPROACH ON THEIR
HIGHLY-ANTICIPATED NEW ALBUM, THEHUNTER.
BY CHRIS KIES
Unlike the prehistoric mammal it’s named after, Atlanta-based metal quartet Mastodon is adept at evolving. The band’s 2002 debut, Remission—a sludge-metal concept album— had guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher combining Dream Theater-level technicality with Sabbath-meets-Motörhead grooves and moods, and even a slight nod to the Allman
Brothers on “Ol’e Nessie.” Mastodon’s sophomore effort, 2004’s Leviathan, was an onslaught of head-banging goodness with a little Thin Lizzy panache mixed in. It garnered the band Album of the Year
awards from Kerrang!, Terrorizer, and other publications catering to the metal crowd.
Up to that point, the band’s vocal approach had leaned more toward guttural roars, but 2006’s Blood
Mountain saw a shift, with Hinds and bassist Troy Sanders—who share vocal duties—exploring a more
melodic bent. But the band’s biggest leap forward—both creatively and commercially—came with
2009’s Crack the Skye. By far the tightest, most cohesive album in their catalog up to that point, the sev-
en-song epic showed hints of Pink Floyd and Yes influences, as well as expanded guitar palettes: Hinds
and Kelliher dialed in more clean tones, and their First Act Custom Shop 9- and 12-string axes pro-
vided a sound that Hinds described as a “ringing, atonal chorus effect unmatched by any chorus pedal.”
However, for this year’s The Hunter, Kelliher and Hinds veered away from the concept approach.
“The new album is about nothing,” says Hinds, who also leads the surfabilly band Fiend Without a
Face and several other side projects during Mastodon downtime. But the difference on The Hunter isn’t
just lyrical. On past albums, Hinds took the lead on riff writing, but this time around Kelliher contrib-
uted more song ideas, and both wrote and recorded their own riffs and songs individually. “It’s tighter
because we did it this way,” says Kelliher. Both guitarists also experimented with new gear.
Your previous albums have
been pretty epic. How did your
approach differ for The Hunter?
Kelliher: With Crack the Skye,
most of those riffs were written by Brent, but this time we
all contributed musical ideas.
We decided to take a different approach, because we’re all
pretty busy outside the world
of Mastodon, and after touring
for nearly two years we really
wanted to take a break. Before
The Hunter, when Brent would
a write a song—or vice versa—
the other person would learn it
and double it, or come up with
their own complementary part.
But on The Hunter, there are
parts and songs where it’s strictly
Brann [Dailor, drums] and me
or Brent and Brann—that’s
something we’ve never really
Hinds: I really didn’t approach
The Hunter any different than
our previous albums. We just
decided—like we always do—to
write and record a cool album
that’s badass, and to do the best
we can. I play guitar so much
in Mastodon and my other
bands that I don’t really block
out time to write—if something
comes to me while I’m jam-
ming and it sticks with me, I’ll
generally try recording it. But if
I forget the riff or idea, then it
probably wasn’t meant to be.
Bill, are you happy with how
the different writing approach
worked out this time?
Kelliher: It was real spontaneous—some of the stuff was
even written while in the studio rehearsing and recording
other songs. But honestly, I was
really nervous about going at this
album with the attitude of “Let’s
just go record—even though we
don’t know each other’s parts.”
But our producer, Mike Elizondo,
reassured us that a lot of bands do
it that way—he mentioned that
James [Hetfield, vocalist/rhythm
guitar] in Metallica records all his
parts, and then Kirk [Hammett,
lead guitar] comes in and records
the solos. Don’t get me wrong,
though—the stuff we’ve done in
the past, with those contrasting
guitar tones and mannerisms,
do give a song a bigger feel.
Brent and I, James and Kirk of
Metallica, or any two guitarists are
never going to play the same song
or the same riff the same. So I
feel The Hunter is a tighter album
because we did it this way.
The whole album seems to
groove a little more than
past albums, especially on