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Night of The Hunter: Guitar World Spends an Evening With Mastodon Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher

Night of The Hunter: Guitar World Spends an Evening With Mastodon Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher

It's 11 a.m. on the day after Halloween, in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. The sun is shining and Guitar World is up bright and early (well, at least by rock-star standards) to meet with Mastodon at the Wiltern Theatre.

The Atlanta-based progressive sludge metallers are several dates into the touring cycle for The Hunter, their aggressive and unexpectedly hooky new record that marks the first time they haven't released a concept album since their 2002 debut, Remission.

We're here to catch up with guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher to find out what triggered their upbeat new direction and discover what really goes on backstage with the notoriously hard-rocking and hard-living band.

But at this hour, things are pretty quiet. The scene outside the historic art deco theater is anything but rocking: Pedestrians casually stroll by, people linger at the bus stop, and a security guard enjoys a long smoke break in front of the venue's gated doors. That is until a group of 10 teenagers, wearing black hoodies and clutching bags from McDonald's, turn the corner and form a line at the front door.

Mastodon may not be hitting the stage for another 10 hours, but these kids are already visibly excited, flashing big smiles and throwing devil horns. But before these fans are treated to any new live material, there's a lot of work to be done backstage- beginning with the load-in.

12 P.M. LOAD-IN

At exactly noon, the backstage entrance comes alive. The gear trucks roll up and the stage crew begins unloading case after case of equipment. The motley team of tattooed techs methodically begins to build out the stage setup for tonight's gig, with Kelliher and Hinds' stations taking shape at stage left and right, respectively.

After the gear is staged, Kelliher's tech (who inexplicably arrives wearing a crown of thorns) begins unpacking the road cases and showing off Kelliher's guitars, including his tobacco 1974 Les Paul Custom, 1982 Les Paul "Silverburst'' and new Gibson Dethklok "Thunder Horse" Explorer (the last of which Kelliher received from his friend, Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small).

Before long, Kelliher appears, looking unexpectedly well rested and focused, and joins his tech to begin dialing in his sound. ''We're just a week into the tour and I've got all this new gear," the guitarist says. "I'm using a new Mesa/Boogie Royal Atlantic head and a TC Electronic G-System, which is totally way too complicated for my brain. But I'm growing as a musician, and I should be able to use this stuff instead of having to dance all over my pedal board. So we've been really working on dialing in the right sound."

On the other side of the stage, Hinds' tech is working on one of the guitarist's custom Electrical Guitar Company aluminum-neck, acrylic-body Vs. The guitar is lying on a makeshift surgical table, with its electronic guts spilling out all over the place. The tech busts out the soldering iron and, before diving in, mentions Hinds was last seen hanging by the tour bus.

Outside, a visibly sleepy Brent Hinds is emerging from the bus like a groggy redheaded bear with a facial tattoo. "Ah, Guitar World ... When do we get our cover!" he says, as a big grin spreads across his face. "I have [Editor-In-Chief] Brad [Tolinski's] phone number. I should call and tell him to put us on the cover ... or I'll come pee on the bushes in his yard."

Without missing a beat, Hinds produces an iPhone and scrolls through photos of last night's Halloween antics. Like the final scene from The Hangover, he swipes through a gallery of debauched images, many of which feature Hinds dressed in orange face paint and wearing a huge Afro. He's also excited to speak about creating The Hunter,>, an experience he describes as "a lighter vibe, more fun and an all-around happier situation" than its predecessor, 2009's Crack the Skye.

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