Mastodon’s Hunter Tour
Promoter: Relapse Records (I think)
Date: Saturday 11th February 2012
Venue: O2 Brixton Academy, London
Bands: Mastodon, Dillinger Escape Plan, Red Fang
Okay, it’s taken me a little while to get round to writing this review. I’ve been caught up recently starting a brand new job no less than two days following the gig which has taken up the lion’s share of my time so apologies for that. Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about my foray into the unbridled epicness of Mastodon and their bastion of choice for this show – London.
After a full day in London (including a fury inspiring hour long train wait in a hedge and more overpriced booze than is advisable) I returned to the venue where I saw my first gig about six years ago. Back then I was a tiny little squeaky voiced Offspring fan who was terrified of the pit and found myself struggling to get out after only twenty minutes. This time round I was a greasy, ugly motherfucker of a metalhead and I was ready for whatever the gig could throw at me.
Starting off to get everybody in the mood was Oregon’s sludge inspired rockers Red Fang. You can see instantly why Red Fang were chosen rile up the fans with the opening support act; a lot of what they do feels and sounds a lot like Mastodon. The pounding riffs, sludgy tempos and aggressive use of the metal icon – the beard – all set these guys up as sharing many qualities with tonight’s headliner. Now quite often in the music industry sounding too much like another band, especially one on the same night, is nothing short of suicide but, in this instance, you can forgive these guys. If you’re going to sound like anybody Mastodon is a great fucking starting point and, besides, there’s plenty setting these guys apart from the Georgian behemoth to make them great in their own right. Their whole setlist was a headbanger from start to finish, factoring in everything from catchy vocal hooks on the part of Aaron Beam to the grooving intricacies of the instrumental episodes from guitarists Bryan Giles and David Sullivan. Of course no axemen can stand by themselves and tying in the whole team John Sherman pounded the drums ferociously; straightforward and uncompromising.
Although these guys may not have the brain bending audacity or sheer technical mindfuckery of their headliners there’s still so much to draw you in that you can’t help but love them. Each song could best be described for me as a journey. It draws you in, takes you there, flies you to the sky then brings you safely back down. Each was a journey I loved being a part on and with our final destination, fan favourite ‘Prehistoric Dog’, bringing on the first moshpit of the night, this journey had taken me home.
Following on from a band much like their headliners came one almost on the complete flipside of them. After a quick stint to the bar I came back to find mathcore pioneers Dillinger Escape Plan taking the stage. Now I’ve not usually found myself to be a fan of the mathcore genre, I ordinarily find the combinations of fretwork and drums in such a complex fashion to be needlessly overcomplicated and the constant shifts make the songs too hard to latch on to, made worse by the harsh vocals creating a cacophony over the top. That said, I did go into this gig with a certain degree of cynicism, the only track of Dillinger’s I knew was ‘Black Bubblegum’ and I had it on good authority that it was nothing like the rest of their material. True to my assumptions, I’ll admit that Dillinger’s first couple of tracks came off sounding very messy. Writing compositions that intricate is impressive but the problem with them is that one slip up or tempo glitch can create a butterfly effect unless you can recover pretty damn quick. Still, I gave the guys a listen while I finished my beer and pretty soon I was treated to ‘Black Bubblegum’, which I decided would be the perfect time to enter the pit. What I wasn’t banking on was that this would also be where I’d be staying for the rest of the set and where I would also have my epiphany.
Once ‘Black Bubblegum’ was over Dillinger launched into the rest of their set and I was at the mercy of the swings and blows of a mathcore pit in full fury. Every crescendo was a maelstrom, every key change a massive leap down a chasm and every thrashing riff an equally thrashing assault on the senses. Mathcore is not there to be listened to, it’s there to be experienced. Vocalist Greg Pusciato’s occassional forays into the audience served well to ground an direct the chaos of the band’s onstage antics and each played their parts for the rest of the gig with an unbridled brilliance.
So I’d like to say sorry to Dillinger Escape Plan and mathcore in general for ever doubting them. I’m sorry guys…clearly I’m a twat.
So, headliners out of the way big, burly, bearded metalheads hoarded into the venue ready for what we had all come there to see. We waited, we chanted, we watched and soon, when anticipation was flying as high as it possibly could at this sell out venue, The Hunter dropped. Almost as soon as the sheet with the new album’s striking image emblazoned upon it had landed Mastodon took to the stage and thundered their way through new single ‘Dry Bone Valley’ to kick off the gig at a massively high standard and with a flare that most bands can barely dream of. Once this song had come thundering down to its finale we barely even had a breather before the hauntingly brilliant opening strains of ‘Black Tongue’ kicked in and the pit was once again launched into full ferocity. The rest of the gig was an absolute storm of aggression, exhilliration and pure unadulterated fucking power.
Mastodon are a strange band to see live for a couple of reasons. Firstly, where most bands concern quite a lot of their time with the talk in between songs, introducing themselves or even just telling the crowd which song is coming up next, Mastodon devote almost none of their time to this. The music washed over the crowds ceaselessly like the waves of Leviathan’s cover as ‘Tongue’ became ‘Crystal Skull’, ‘Skull’ became ‘I am Ahab’ and on and on with little to no interjection from the guys. In some bands this could lead to an irritatingly bland show but fortunately Mastodon have so much talent behind them that this really is a testament to the music and not the people who make it. This lead on to the second peculiarity of the Mastodon show. Each song was played with such flawless precision that it was like listening to an incredibly heavy version of the album surrounded by like minded metalheads who all loved to mosh. Finally, the third awesome oddness came in that very ensemble of fans surrounding me. Never before have I been a moshpit for such an impressive length of time. From ‘Dry Bone’ all the way through to the unstoppable thrill that was ‘Blood and Thunder’ the pit kept going on and on without remission with one simple rule – join or die. Even slower and more sombre affairs like ‘Thickening’ and ‘Sleeping Giant’ managed to inspire some of the more insane approaches to expression I have seen, including a bald guy leaning forwards and proceeding bull like through the crowd before doing a 180 and repeating until we took him down. I loved every second of it, only taking the opportunity to escape during ‘Ghost of Karelia’ when my body screamed ‘GO GET SOME WATER OR I’M CHOKING UP YOUR FUCKING KIDNEYS’, you don’t ignore something like that.
Everything in this show came together beautifully, each member of the band was on perfect form as they took us on the roller coaster of their set. Whilst Hunter took the main bulk of the setlist, for obvious reasons, there were plenty of massive hitters from Blood Mountain and Leviathan to pad out the set with awesomeness including perennial fan favourite ‘Colony of Birchmen’, the song that got quite a lot of the crowd into the band in the first place. Even the bonkers-concept epic Crack the Skye and furious debut Remissions got their smaller share in with the beautiful ‘Crack the Skye’ and apocalyptic ‘March of the Fire Ants’ being particular highlights. Even the light shows was something to behold, with each shift perfectly fitting whatever bizarre chord of feeling, intention and sonic inspiration the band offered.
With ‘Blood and Thunder’ providing the pit of the night, the band barely even left the stage in preparation for the encore and we watched as Troy Sanders started the haunting opening notes of ‘Creature Lives’. The stage then slowly flooded with the rest of the band, all the members of Red Fang and all the members of Dilinger Escape Plan and all thirteen sang along in the collective glory of what, apparently, is Mastodon’s love song (I only say this because it was at this point I was made aware of how many teenage couples I was surrounded by). Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more awesome with the amount of talent together onstage Mastodon pulled out that last trick that pushes them above the rest – that ability to do whatever the fuck they want – thousands of balloons careened from the ceiling and (amidst the popping) that final solo played out.
Like I said, ‘Creature Lives’ is a love song and made, for me, what the night was all about. Love. We love that bands, the bands love what they do. Metal may not look like it, but it’s all about love. The fans, the bands, the music, the feeling, the gigs, everything about the genre drips with it.
Take it in whenever you can. And love it whenever you do.
Red Fang: 8/10
Dillinger Escape Plan: 7/10