Sept. 14, Metro, Chicago, Ill.

By: Wayne Graham


"Blood and Thundered"

With their astonishing major label debut, Blood Mountain, Mastodon has once and for all staked their claim as the Metal Band of the Decade. The record is a stoner-prog masterwork, overflowing with rapid fire drumming, rollercoaster twin-guitar runs, skull crushing riffs upon polyrhythmic riffs, and enough dime-stop time signature change-ups to make Neil Peart blush. As metal makes its way back into fashion, most bands - even the good ones - sound like In Flames-Version 2.0 or third generation copies of the Unholy Trinity of Sabbath, Maiden, and Slayer. But with Mastodon, even as you pick out references to every great hard rock band of the past three decades (Thin Lizzy, Prong, Neurosis, Rush, etc.), drop the needle, and you know instantly who you’re listening to. With 2002’s Remission and 2004’s Moby Dick-inspired Leviathan, the band was proclaimed the future of metal. With Blood Mountain, they’ve both summed up the past twenty years of the genre, and made it all obsolete in one fell swoop.

At their September 14th show at the Metro in Chicago, the band devoted nearly half of their setlist to new material, and the sold-out audience worked themselves into the same frenzy for new songs like “Crystal Skull” and “Capillarian Crest” as they did for fan favorites like “March of the Fire Ants”. The guitar work of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher volleyed between massive monolithic passages to intricate double-lead curlicues to Southern-fried finger-pickin’ licks and back again, sometimes all within a few measures of each other and, in their best moments, all at once. Troy Sanders laid down fuzzy, creepy-crawling bass lines as he swapped vocals with Hinds. The progress they’ve both made in this area is significant. Their bark-at-the-moon howling sounded better than ever, and the Mountain tracks highlighting the band’s increasingly impressive sense of melody were perfectly executed.

Drummer Brann Dailor was, predictably, a Thunder God of the highest order. Any metal band worth its salt must have a good percussionist, but what Dailor displays is something extraordinarily unique, and it’s the key ingredient to Mastodon’s sound. Influenced as much by jazz-fusion players like Billy Cobham as by double-bass speed kings like Dave Lombardo, Dailor’s rhythms play like one long extended solo. The trick is that he’s always musical; he weaves in and out of what his band mates are up to. His fills take up all of one measure, and spill over into the beginning of the next, giving the band a propulsion and urgency unrivaled by anything in contemporary heavy music. In front of the Chicago audience, this effect was equal parts pummeling and soaring.

Of course, Mastodon’s instrumental prowess would amount to nothing more than hot-dogging wankery if they flew to the cosmos on every indulgent, blacklight-poster spacejam that occurred to them. One of the band’s best traits (especially on Blood Mountain) is that they’re full of juicy sonic notions, but once an idea is properly introduced and fleshed out, they either assimilate something new into it, or move on altogether. The impulse to noodle songs into extended jams is greater in a live setting, but every number was delivered with economy equal to its virtuosity, maximizing the power.

The band saved Leviathan’s “Hearts Alive”, their longest running song, for the encore, where it served as an extended summary of purpose. It was a buffet of gradual, organically shifting moods and tempos. They let the audience hang on to motifs longer than in previous songs - keeping them hypnotized, stringing them out, letting the bold Mastodon sound burn itself into their minds once and for all as they built towards a volcanic climax.






All opinions expressed by Wayne Graham are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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