Mastodon - LA2, Monday 11th July
Do you ever get one of those days when someone asks you if you want a Mastodon ticket and you carelessly say yes? Yeah, happens to us too. Which is how we found ourselves in the Mekong Delta heat of the LA2 surrounded by much Metal chin merkin action Monday gone. We've already nodded calmly through Winnebago Deal (one guitar, one drums, lots of shouting) and Raging Speedhorn (full band, two vocalists. LOTS of SHOUTING which often comes across as a full on death metal domestic). The moshpit action has thrown a whirling vortex of bodies at each other in to what untrained eyes might consider to be a full on riot so by the time our conquering heros take the stage the LA2 has begun to resemble the end of monsoon season.
And conquering heroes they are. This is the 6th time Mastodon have played London in 11 months and they play with the joy and energy usually reserved for homecoming shows. Indeed if they could say any more nice things about London we'd be hiring them to right guide books (albeit scary guide books with lots of pictures of medieval skeletons). Bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders stalks the stage with the grizzled vigour of a psychotic Captain Ahab, sparkly of eye, grinning wildly like Serge (SOAD) Tankian's twin demon letting loose the vocal furies of 1000 viking warriors. OK, perhaps we're getting a little carried away now, but damn can that man growl.
He climbs the speaker stack at the side of the stage to survey the ocean of !,,! salutes and wildly bobbing heads. And that's not to say that co-vocalist, axeman and charity wristband designer Brent Hinds or his fellow six string slinger Bill Kelliher are slouches either. They all take their turns on the stack, pull faces at the crowd, and it's been far too long since Londonist last saw a full on heads down one leg on the monitor sychronised headbanging routine.
That we haven't yet mentioned drummer Brann Dailor is simply because he deserves a paragraph entirely to himself. No human being alive should be able to play as hard and as fast as he does. The fact that he walks rather than crawls from his kit at the end of the show can only be testament to the fact that this man is not of us, and probably descended from some Kryptonian race of super-drummers in the stars. Put it this way. Imagine your bog standard indie drum pattern. Jaunty of pace. Now take the space between two drum beats from said indie drum pattern. Well Brann fills those spaces with entire fills, trills, thrills, crashes, bashes, whams, bams and thank you ma'ams. Dave Grohl! Pah! An infant (BTW - sorry Dave fans).
For the uninitiated (and we take this to be most of you, but thanks if you're still reading) Mastodon are probably best described as a Prog Thrash Metal band. Their last album, Leviathan was a concept album based on Moby Dick. They play songs about Iceland. They play hard and heavy with occasional lapses into breakneck speed. Imagine Slayer doing Maiden's Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner or James Hetfield writing Jazz Odyssey. You don't have to listen too carefully to detect classic 70s rock riffs, glam riffs, NWOBHM hooks, hardcore mash ups, you name it - if it has rock in the title it's there riffs all thrown in with gleeful abandon. Songs randomly and often take a right turn Clyde withour any regard for us poor souls trying to follow them. Just as you've learnt to headbang to one rhythm the bastards go and leap off into 16/35 time or something equally weird and wonderful.
This willful rejection of the rules is represented by the two covers they end the show with: The Melvins's Hooch and Thin Lizzy's Emerald. Their balls to the wall playing and mashed up metal draws allusions to the aforementioned SOAD (that's System Of A Down non rivet heads), only Mastodon swap SOAD's Armenian folk for a heritage of bleeding knuckle riffola.
To end it all, and as if you hadn't already guessed from the warm smiles that crouch under every tortured grimace, the Mastodonians show a gentler side that raises one of the biggest cheers of the night. Referencing the rough week we've been through they add a final touching coda.
For every one bullshit thing that happens in this world there are 99 beautiful ones...
And one of them just happens to be tonight.