Mastodon at Manchester Academy 1
On the penultimate date of an extensive tour in support of new album Emperor of Sand, Mastodon produced a performance that, while it was water tight, felt electric and unhinged; like they could have exploded at any minute. With a touring schedule that takes in over 100 dates across 22 countries, it is no surprise to hear their technical abrasiveness smashed out with such deadly precision, yet there was wildness to their performance tonight that kept things wild and unpredictable.
Speaking to the crowd after their set, drummer Bran Dailor had said he was convinced Russian Circles were haunted, and their ominous tones provided a captivating backdrop to their set. Dense, macabre rhythms and spooky ethereal textures coalesced across songs which were unnerving as they were engrossing, their shadowy moods doing the perfect job of getting things started.
By contrast, Portland’s stoner metal troupe Red Fang brought the party. Their up-tempo, fuzz curdled riffs underpinned a performance of high energy and intensity with Blood Like Cream an early highlight. Sweat dripped from guitarist David Sullivan’s bushy beard as he threw himself all over the stage, the crowd doing likewise down the front. By the time the devilishly infectious twin lead of Prehistoric Dog took over, the temperature in the place had soared, the atmosphere had shifted tempestuously and the amount of booze consumed had tripled. There was no doubting this band’s ability to entertain.
Back on our shores and back in Manchester for the first time since November 2014, you’d expect the band’s focus to be on their compelling and deeply personal new record. Yet opening with Crack The Skye’s 13 minute plus epic The Last Baron was a daring curveball no one expected (except for those dastardly few who Google the set list before the show) and it set the tone for a career spanning show which highlighted their diverse creativity which transcends genres and emotions.
The Sultan’s Curse gave the first dose of Emperor material, a song whose greatest strength lies in the tri-pronged vocal attack of Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds and Bran Dailor. All their voices pertain their own unique sense of character and across the song brighten deft, adventurous chord progressions and bruising riffs. Bladecatcher, a song rarely dropped by the band, was as weird as ever, brilliantly used as a leftfield prelude for the seismic barbarity of Black Tongue.
As one poor sod is carried from the pit by a friend having broken his ankle, it is clear that 17 year’s into their existence Mastodon are a band with plenty of firepower. Riff after riff barrage the crowd, the one-two of Megalodon and Andromeda are unprecedentedly heavy, but it is how they colourise and decorate the bigger picture that has made them such a prestigious band. For all their heaviness, there is an equal measure of lofty, melodic choruses which find the crowd in full voice and traversing progressive instrumental passages that sweep the room away. And then there’s Hinds’ jaw-dropping guitar solos which tonight had by the bucketload.
Seven LED panels stood across the stage like columns, flickering with psychedelic visuals throughout, most potent during the apt blizzard and blood imagery during Andromeda, but in truth it was a lavish inclusion that wasn’t needed. It looked stunning, yes, but this band could play in a dingy backstreet pub with a single light bulb swinging from a grotty ceiling and they’d still be incredible. They have the songs and they’re polished-yet-raw way of performing those tracks will never tire.