Live Review: Mastodon, Gojira, Kvelertak in Madison

Live Review: Mastodon, Gojira, Kvelertak
By Peter Lindblad

Mastodon's Brann Dailor, Brett Hinds,
Bill Kelliher and Troy Sanders (Photo by
Travis Shinn)
A lot is expected of Mastodon. Such is their burden, and they don't really seem to mind carrying it.

From the moment Remission dropped from the sky in 2002 and crashed into earth like a devastating asteroid, the legend of Mastodon has only grown larger. Their enormous, surging riffs and enthralling progressive passages – so intricately designed and so hypnotic to behold – made believers out of metal fans and the cult of Mastodon continued to grow.

Nobody does concept albums anymore, and yet Mastodon, typically oblivious to the whims of a fickle music industry, unleashed in 2004 the titanic Leviathan to critical acclaim. For God's sake, it was a record centered around the tale of "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville, and even though it was a story about a maniacal obsession for killing a damn big whale, it's not really the most "metal" thing in the world to meditate on dusty old literary sacred cows. Just who were these people? They are the four horsemen that make up Mastodon, that's who. And they'll do anything they damn well please, because they know you have to have those riffs. You have to have Brent Hinds' otherworldly guitar solos and Brann Dailor's seemingly impossible drumming gymnastics. Without them, the world would be a cold, empty place, indeed.

Whether taking astral voyages through Crack The Skye, crafting what may well be the greatest metal epic of the new millennium in the thunderous Blood Mountain or making a video with so much ass-tastic twerking that it made what Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus did look positively Mormon by comparison, Mastodon has always gone its own way, confident in asserting that what they've done is just and right and if you don't like it, there's the door.

Well, some longtime supporters in recent years have looked at that same door and wondered if the party's winding down and whether it might be time to leave. With The Hunter and its follow-up, this year's Once More 'Round The Sun, Mastodon's sound has evolved into something warmer and more colorful, and heaven forbid, more pop. And then came that twerking video, the one for "The Motherlode." That, apparently, crossed some sort of line.

And so, with doubt creeping in and cracks starting to appear in Mastodon fandom, what did these loud and heavy minstrels do? They decided to go on tour in support of Once More 'Round The Sun – which boasts some of their best songwriting by the way; don't let the naysayers' nitpicking make you believe otherwise – with two of the hungriest, most ambitious young bands around in French technical death metal giants Gojira and the ball of black metal and punk fury known as Kvelertak. Got a load of Gojira in this video:

All three invaded The Orpheum in Madison, Wis., on Thursday, and what a spectacular triple bill it was. The monstrous wall of pummeling sound – not to mention their inhuman precision and wrecking-ball swing – Gojira constructed must have caused all kinds of seismic activity in the area, its music infinitely more violent live than on record. By all rights, it's hard to believe the capitol building is still standing. All this coming on the heels of the barely harnessed raw intensity of Kvelertak, a jail break of three guitars, sturdy, roaring riffs and punk energy. Here's what they bring to the table:

Not just anyone could follow that. Again, though, this is Mastodon. Perhaps they felt a need to be pushed on this tour, to have some competition that would give them all they wanted and then some. And with the Duplantier brothers of Gojira in Madison – evidently the birthplace of their mother or she grew up there or something – they were highly motivated to shock and awe, having informed the audience how special this performance was to them.

And it was important to Mastodon and its followers, too, if only to show, once and for all, that they deserved to headline, that they're still as heavy as ever and can still leave audiences spellbound with dreamy, cosmic transmissions, while at the same time delivering non-stop action and landing big hooks right on the chin. There was no "Curl of the Burl," but there was a dazzling version of "The Motherlode," followed by a spacey and powerful "Oblivion." Throw out the set lists. It's not important what songs were played. It's how they played them.

They played them with swagger. They were playful, and they were mighty, their last six or so songs a blur of thick, psychedelic, swirling sound that was as punishing and action-packed as it was melodic and beautiful. It was fast and slow, trippy and as focused as the lasers shooting overhead on occasion, an acid-induced nightmare of a tapestry behind them matching the wild and wooly atmosphere. There was Troy Sanders, throwing down massive bass lines and banging not just his head but his whole body. There were Hinds and Bill Kelliher, cycling through captivating dual-guitar explorations as if tunneling to the center of the earth or hurtling through space to fight alien monsters. And then there are the vocals, Mastodon's unique arrangement of three singers who haven't always been great live. Even if Hinds was a bit muted, they rarely, if ever, veered off track.

And Mastodon performed as if they had nothing to prove to anyone. They knew what they were capable of, and they simply let it rip, throwing caution to the wind, but they were never careless.

Searching for the motherlode of current metal treasures? Look no further than this tour. It's not to be missed.

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