A large number of people wearing black descended on Kentish Town last night in order to see Mastodon, heavyweights of the Atlanta prog-math-tech-doom-art-metal scene, unleash their waves of intricate chords and furiously-paced drumbeats at the Forum, and Londonist was pleased to join them.
After wandering in to the main floor unchallenged (despite being in possession of balcony tickets) but then deciding we'd rather have a civilised drink unjostled by the hordes of fans with a fanatical gleam in their eyes, we moved upstairs and had a bird's-eye view of the action - a novelty, and not an unpleasant one, although we did somewhat miss the cut, thrust, barge and mosh of the pit when the headliners played the anthemic Blood and Thunder. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Opening act Saviours had impenetrable American accents - but maybe we were just deaf after their assault on our eardrums. One reviewer described their sound as "classic-sounding lead licks [which] scale the heights of mountains of sludgy riffing, twin-guitar harmonies abound as busy drumming works hard for its money underneath moaning semi-musical clean singing" and we won't argue with that; wasn't really our cup of tea, but our goth gig buddy quite liked it. Much like Mastodon, Saviours took riffs and looped them over and over again, to build a wall of sound that was painfully intense - by which we mean our ears are still ringing. Progressive or derivative? We couldn't quite decide, so spent their set drinking overpriced beer and laughing at the fact that the bassist (short, slicked-back hair, slightly nerdy tapered jeans) looked like he'd wandered on stage by accident when set against the rest of the band (long, wild hair, scruffy jeans, hipster t-shirts) - an impression reinforced by the way he mooched around at the far right-hand edge of the stage, while the other three bunched in the centre-left.
When Mastodon made their appearance, the very first notes of opener This Mortal Soil stamped their imprimatur on the evening as the mellow, hazy melodies of the intro turned into an intricate-but-heavy signature Mastodon riff that tore up the floor. More songs from 2006's critically-acclaimed Blood Mountain followed without pause - The Wolf Is Loose and Crystal Skull, then single Capillarian Crest. The band bent and swayed like strands of kelp in the ocean, with fork-bearded bassist/vocalist Troy Sanders' shoulders almost touching the ground behind him at more than one point. Blood Mountain's insanely complicated rhythms were reproduced live perfectly - no mean feat for a band for whom 4/4 time is more often than not rejected in favour of 17/8, and in which they were aided immeasurably by the godlike skills of drummer Brann Dailor.
Many fan favourites from the Moby-Dick-inspired concept album Leviathan made their way onto the setlist; we were especially thrilled to hear Blood and Thunder, I Am Ahab and Iron Tusk, each of which finished with the guitarists holding their instruments aloft, a proper and pleasing metal-style gesture from the metal band it is OK for the image-conscious to like (unless you are a reviewer for the Grauniad, however, although that paper's shocking neglect of the genre is a matter for another day).
The set finished - all too soon - with Hearts Alive, a near 14 minute-long song for which the epithet "epic" may well have been invented. As Saviours attempted, so Mastodon succeeded in taking a riff, then building and building on it to create something hypnotic and gripping, and even groovy - it's lyrical metal-funk, Jim, but not as we know it. Their crunching and multi-layered stoner-rock speaks of a more-than-passing familiarity with psychotropic drugs; guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds got put on "metal detention" after he destroyed a bathroom while "fucked up on acid" and drinking tequila, and missed a show in Nashville as a result, according to an interview with Thrasher magazine. As Nathan Explosion of the world's best metal band Dethklok would say, that's brutal.
Overall we had, ahem, a 'whale' of a time (sorry) and can't wait for Mastodon to return to town, so they can swallow us once more, Jonah-like, and spit us out exhilarated and euphoric, our minds' eyes dancing with visions of fire ants, enormous sea-beasts and sleeping giants as we try futilely to headbang in 23/16 time.
Mastodon photo from WordsWithoutThoughts' Flickr stream; thanks also to truckinghostile for the setlist info