An associate of mine once said that Mastodon is like Guinness. They’re an acquired taste which, if the flavour is something your pallet approves, will reward you generously throughout the following years.
The first time I ever saw Mastodon live – or even heard of them for that matter – they were playing a 20 minute support slot on the Unholy Alliance tour 2004. Another associate, who accompanied me to that event, remarked that their album – 2003’s Remission – was a concept album based around the words of Moby Dick; “you’ve got to give them credit for trying something new” he remarked. And just like the whale that consumed Ahab, we had no idea of the musical consumption Mastodon was to have in our lives from that point onward.
Tonight’s performance heralds a change in Mastodon’s career. Both 2011’s ‘The Hunter’ and this year’s ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’ have outsold expectation on the US Billboard 200 – not an easy task for any band, never mind one of the metal genre. It’s perhaps because of these achievements – and less to do with comparison – that I hear a lot of people remarking in tonight’s queue about Mastodon being “this generation’s Metallica”. Comparisons could be drawn (in someone else’s work) about the relationship between the music and successes of these two bands, but I personally believe that Mastodon (much like Moby Dick) is a beauty all of its own splendour.
Support comes from Krokodil and Big Business. In a previous review of their debut album, ‘Nachash’, I confused this band with another metal band from Rhode Island (also named Krokodil) and specifically mentioned that I question the integrity of this project given the band members previous experiences, duties and obvious connections. So I’d like to apologise, firstly, for any confusion I may have caused.
In one word, Krokodil’s set tonight was intense, the passion of the players resonating with the loud and crushing music that they perform. Guitarist Daniel P. Carter and Alex Venturella work so well in unison with Laurent Barnard that it seems to be a match made in heaven. Dan Foord (who has already proven himself in SikTh) seems to be more at home with this project than in any I’ve witnessed him in before. And bassist James Leech (himself rumoured to be a member of The Hell) completes the line up of a talented group of individuals. I’m not sure how far Krokodil will go in this business, but what I am sure of, is that no matter how far that is you’ll hear them coming, you’ll hear them pounding and they’ll slam the door on the way out.
Speaking of slamming the door, as Krokodil walks off stage; I hear one eager fan ask Alex if he’s really the latest member of Slipknot. Alex doesn’t respond, but I’ll keep an eye out in January and see if I notice him crossing the car park of the Metro Radio Arena.
Next up is Big Business, and they mean business (sorry, couldn’t resist), with a sound not unlike that of tonight’s headliners. Stoner rock would be an adequate way to describe that sound, but doesn’t do them much justice; you’d be encouraged to seek out their ‘Battlefields Forever’ release for a clearer idea. Their set suffers with sound problems, though you’d hardly realise, as the intensity of their performance is matched only by one young metal fan who attempts to force his way through the audience and get clothes lined by the person standing next to me. Newcastle, it seems, are very intolerant of those who skip queues.
Finally, we’ve got tonight’s headliners, with the sweat already expelled from most of the assembled here tonight forming a swimming pool up to our ankles. As guitarist Brent Hinds moves onto the stage there is a roar of appreciation, and reminding me of the last time I seen this band (opening for Metallica in 2009) they retain the same line up and the same sense of letting the music speak for them. That first track is ‘Tread Lightly’ (but that is the last thing the audience is going to do) and we’re blown into an orgasm of music from the start. Indeed, unlike the Machine Head like rants of Rob Flynn or the inane chatter of Steel Panther, thanking people endlessly for coming out and supporting their favourite band and raising beers to their cause, Mastodon say virtually nothing to the crowd. By the fourth track, a crowd pleaser in ‘Oblivion’ (a song they opened with in 2009, if memory serves), it’s become clear that this is going to be a long and noisy night.
The set list is wild and varied, with ‘Halloween’ preceding ‘Aunt Lisa’ – some of the “favoured” tracks are left towards the end, songs like ‘Black Tongue’, ‘Crystal Skull’ and, of course, ‘Blood and Thunder’ from that first release. If I was nitpicking I’d mention that I was upset not to hear ‘March of the Fire Ants’ once more, but you can’t have everything. And we don’t even get an encore – there’s no wasted time – every second dedicated to giving you some extra songs and then, with a simple thanks, announcing that they’ve been Mastodon and leaving the stage. It’s almost like the definition of productive.
As I leave the venue that night I think of the music Mastodon have played, the raw energy and the aggression they have expelled and the adoration which has been returned ten fold by those assembled. Metallica comparisons aside, I think Moby Dick was an adequate way to begin their career, reminded of a quote which does better justice to sum them up and the relationship they have with their music then any words I could ever write. Outstanding.
“To the last, I grapple with thee; From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”
Reviewer: Wayne Madden
Photographer: Graeme Baty
Editor’s note : sadly we were only granted photo access to Krokodil so no photos of Mastodon were taken