Odds are if you’re reading this then it is unlikely that I need to explain to you who Mastodon are. One of the most revered bands in experimental metal is now part way through their second tour of Europe in support of the modern masterpiece that is 2017s Emperor of Sand. The band should be essential listening for any metal fan. Whether you want to mosh the night away to crushingly heavy rhythms, lose yourself in intricate musical passages or simply just sit back and admire a band who are all masters of their craft, then Mastodon have got you covered. Or at least, that’s what I was hoping going in anyway.
Bar a few technical hiccups, opening act Mutoid Man pulled no punches in their brief allotted time. An Overkill style drum intro launched them into their first couple of songs that had me penning them down as some sort of Motorhead / Night Demon cross over. But that was clearly just to ease us in, as the remainder of set (including tracks Kiss of Death and Date with the Devil) started throwing in more complex rhythms and riffs. It is the curse of support bands to have unresponsive crowds, but the reaction at the end of their set meant that Mutoid Man did a fine job of winning people over. I’m sure I’m not the only one who left the venue with the intention of finding more of their music.
I tend to be wary of overly complex genre labels, but the only way I could think to describe the next act, Kvelertak, was just to lump together all the musical elements I could hear. Melodic progressive hardcore punk anyone? Basically, if the Sex Pistols learnt some guitar scales, got a better drummer and messed around with song structures a bit then they probably wouldn’t be far off these crazy Norwegians. None of them kept still for a second. I’m not convinced that they need all three of their guitar players given what was being played, but I guess it is so that two can play the music while the third is throwing shapes.Or it is just to try and match the throat-shredding screams of their frontman. The combination of infectious melodies and primal vocal delivery makes for a jarring yet satisfying combination, and the rabble-rousing delivery of their closing anthem, Kvelertak, showed a band dominating the stage as if they were the headline act.
Singin’ In The Rain isn’t the first song I would think of to open a progressive metal set, but it is forgotten almost as soon as the final notes fade from the PA and Mastodon finally take to the stage. While yes, this tour is in support of Emperor of Sand, the set covered most of the bands back catalogue. Leviathan featured heavily, but tracks from Remission, Crack the Skye, Once More Round The Sun and Blood Mountain all got represented. This was definitely a set for established fans as the more accessible singles such as Show Yourself and The Motherload were completely left out. Not that there weren’t sing along moments. Steambreather got the biggest roar from the crowd since opener Iron Tusk several songs previously and was one of the few moments where you could hear the crowd singing over the band. As for the band themselves, they performed all the tracks flawlessly. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher are one of the best metal guitar duos in the business and watching some of the harmonised riffs and chordal patterns was mesmerising. Brann Dailor is an absolute machine behind the kit: his jazz influenced style meant that the few times he played a straightforward rhythm was when he needed to concentrate on singing duties instead.
Obvious mastery of their instruments aside, there were times when this felt like a very ‘going through the motions’ performance. Brent Hinds made it clear in late 2018 that he was sick of relentless touring and you can tell. The kaleidoscopic display behind the stage and the complex lighting rig added that extra wow factor to all the songs and made the slower passages all the more hypnotic, but the band themselves were often just playing the music rather than performing it. There was very little outside of by-the-books engagement with the audience, or even with each other. Granted, the main element of a gig is the music, and that was performed flawlessly, but something to make it that bit extra than just a regurgitation of the studio recording is always good. If it is constant touring that is sapping the bands energy then they should really have a break. People are not machines. However, other than this slight lack of enthusiasm, the twenty-song set from this evening covered everything a Mastodon fan could ask for, whether that be the unrelenting fury of March of the Fire Ants, the soothing melody of Toe to Toes, or the final cacophony of Blood & Thunder.
Rating: 3.5 / 5