Mastodon – review

Academy, Manchester

With a reputation as one of the heaviest rock bands in the world, Atlanta rockers Mastodon look so very metal that even their drum kit appears to have studs on. Bequiffed drumming powerhouse Brann Dailor aside, the band are an explosion of straggly hair, tattoos and Amish beards. They look as if they have just clambered on stage after a fight in which somebody died, and sound so heavy you suspect the venue will have to check its foundations afterwards.

The Americans are the kings of progressive metal, and make a noise so pulverisingly intense that standing within 75 yards of them makes it feel as if Dailor's machine-gun jazz fills and double bass-drum rhythms are taking place within your stomach. However, behind the walls of riffs are layers of melodic subtlety and technical virtuosity which gives them an appeal beyond metal. Troy Sanders' vocals are beautifully mournful. They do multipart harmonies as tightly as the Bee Gees. Listen to them long enough, and you start hearing (or perhaps imagining) symphonic textures worthy of Bach or Schubert.

Although a Mastodon show doesn't feature motorcycles or flying bats, there's plenty of visual spectacle in the fanged creature backdrop and the way Sanders conducts the crowd like a classical composer. The marathon set rampages from older, twiddlier songs about mythological creatures to moodier selections from last year's acclaimed album The Hunter, such as All the Heavy Lifting ("Just close your eyes and pretend everything's fine"). However, for all the intensity, there's a sense of mischief and fun in the way Dailor grins throughout, and Sanders enjoys leading the crowd singalong into the hard rockin' Curl of the Burl's opening line: "I killed a man 'cause he killed my goat." Mission accomplished, they hold their Flying Vs aloft in glee.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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