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Stage Buzz – Live Review: Mastodon

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Riviera Theater
May 8, 2014

Mastodon’s appearance at the Riviera Theater on May 8 served in part as a sneak peak of the band’s forthcoming album in June, the first album since 2011’s The Hunter.  Most notably, “High Road,” the first single from Once More ‘Round The Sun, was featured, a performance that assured the near sell-out crowd that the Atlanta-based band is continuing in its progressive metal approach.

“High Road” is sludgy with a repetitive and groovy riff that leads into the instantly singable chorus “you take the high road down, I’ll take the ground below you.” The verse-chorus-verse structure is more linear than one might expect from Mastodon, but that eventually gives way to a wall-of-sound double lead-guitar battle.

The majority of the 90-minute set was comprised mostly of songs from past albums, with “Black Tongue,” “Crystal Skull,” and “Oblivion” cemented as requisite crowd favorites. As expected from a band that features multiple textures, tempos, and vocals — often in the same song — guitarist-singer Brent Hinds and bassist-singer Troy Sanders rotated into the singing spotlight. On “Bedazzled Fingernails,” as Hinds led the crowd in singing “lay me down/stand my ground,” the pit offered up crowd surfers, who were quickly wrangled by security only to be let go and reabsorbed into the crowd. The group’s metal jam-band approach, with Southern rock highlights and spacey instrumental passages, has been honed through years of touring. They’ve never been sloppy, but this night seemed especially on, perhaps because they were touring to introduce a new album rather than support one. Although more preview of new material would have been nice, perhaps the band wanted please the crowd with established jams, punctuated with a small taste of what’s soon to come.

Opening bands Kvelertak and Gojira were a study in contrasts, with the former’s loose punk rock approach to metal clashing with the latter’s precision thrash attack.

Chants of “Go-Jir-A!” preceded the French band’s appearance on stage and it delivered on the hype: Two imposing amp stacks bookended an elevated drum platform, allowing shirtless drummer Mario Duplantier an appropriate pulpit from which to conduct his polyrhythmic, helicopter double-bass assault. Strobe lights punctuated nearly every snare drum shot to punishing effect on “The Heaviest Matter of the Universe.” The relentless shredding, combined with the first 90-degree day in Chicago of the season, was nearly overwhelming. On “L’Enfant Sauvage,” the title track of the band’s latest album, the tempo mercifully slowed for temporary relief — necessary for both the band that never missed a mark and the rabid crowd that responded in appreciation.

Norwegian openers Kvelertak, a four-man guitar and bass line-up fronting singer and drummer, presented a different aesthetic in a quick and energetic eight-song set. Longhaired and bare-chested singer Erlend Hjelvik commanded the stage and crowd, wailing in his native tongue from the band’s two-album catalogue. “Braune Brenn” from latest album Meir was a highlight, as the band favored its shorter, high tempo songs (including “Evig Vandrar”) over more progressive offerings found on its albums. Most entertaining were the coordinated guitar-as-prop theatrics pulled off by the four when more groovy breakdowns in the instrumentation allowed. The band was clearly enjoying the energy from the early arriving crowd.

– Jason Scales

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