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Two Dethklok/Mastodon reviews!

| October 21, 2009

Mastodon/Dethklok/Converge/High On Fire
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
Friday, October 16, 2009


A curious bill of artists mixing an odd hodgepodge of metal styles, a fictional band brought to life, and a psychedelic astral journey set to prog-metal made for an astounding, exhausting night of music.

Bludgeoning the audience with the thundering roar of its thrashing, sludgy metal, High On Fire set the tone for the night with the skull-crushing opening cut from Death Is This Communion, “Fury Whip.” Monstrous drums and cataclysmic guitar rained down as Matt Pike and company jack hammered through the furious stop-start riff. From then on, Pike unleashed a brutally relentless assault of molten stoner riffs, blazing solos, and flying saliva. Thankfully, we were well out of range of that last bit.

Venerable hardcore veteran Converge seemed a misplaced candidate for this bill, but there was Kurt Ballou standing alone, center stage, pumping out the shattered glass riff of “Plagues” before the rest of the band jumped on stage. For the next 30 minutes, the guys were a furious blur of pin-wheeling arms, arched backs, and whipped instruments as they ripped through a harrowing set that focused on post-Jane Doe material, and included a few pile-driving cuts from its latest release, Axe To Fall (Epitaph). Jacob Bannon left no ear unscathed, as his shrieking bark tore through the mix, buffeted by Ballou’s gory, apocalyptic guitar. Few metalheads in the audience were inspired by Converge’s crashing clamor and voracious energy, but when Ballou and bassist Nate Newton joined Bannon in bellowing, “I’ll take my love/To the grave” in “The Broken Vow,” it was an exhilaratingly cathartic moment.

For this tour, Mastodon is tasking a risky gambit, playing Crack The Skye (Warner Bros.) in its entirety. Conceptually, it’s a labyrinthine piece, brimming with mystical flights of fancy, fantastical allegories, and supernatural characters all layered into a twisted, dense story. Conveying that story on stage would seem to be a daunting task, but from the opening see-sawing riff of “Oblivion”  to the final echoing crackle of “The Last Baron,” Mastodon masterfully executed its opus.

Brent Hinds’ guitar wizardry is the core of Skye and he fluidly rattled off the brittle, Pink Floyd-esque melody of “The Czar” with each note ringing through the rafters, and the crooked, rough crunch of the title track. Bill Kelliher supplied soaring, lush counterpoint to Hinds’ shimmering lead in “The Last Baron,” and ample chunk and grind in “Divinations.” Troy Sanders’ thick, wide bass was surgically welded to Brann Dailor’s technically precise, nimble drumming, and their lock-step rhythms anchored the guitar pyrotechnics, as a streaming video montage of surrealistic images and visual metaphors hinted at the story without slavishly reflecting a literal interpretation. The ebb and flow of the images paralleled the mood and structure of the album, and provided a compelling visual backdrop, the iridescent light illuminating Hind’s curly mane so that it shone like a halo.

After concluding Crack The Skye, the guys took a short respite, as ambient keyboards washed over the crowd, before the blistering fusillade that launched “Circle Of Cysquatch” announced Mastodon’s return. As if to counter-balance the melodic, progressive leanings of Crack The Skye, Mastodon emphasized heavy, rib-rattling numbers for this portion of the set. It dove into the back catalog for “Aqua Dementia” and the rumbling cacophony of “Where Strides The Behemoth” before finishing with a smashing rendition of The Melvins’ “The Bit.”

Detractors have noted that Mastodon’s progressive and psychedelic tendencies have slowly but consistently eroded the thrash-metal foundation of its early career, with Crack The Skye being the culmination of that trend. If any such detractors were present, they were drowned out by the rowdy, enthusiastic crowd that relished hearing the album in its entirety, and witnessing a truly innovative metal powerhouse at the height of its power.

“Metalocalypse” star Dethklok finished off the night with a deafening set of bombastic thrash and death metal as flesh-and-blood characters replaced the animated ones. Lead guitarist and vocalist Brendon Small is the mastermind behind the whole concept, writing the characters, music, and lyrics, and he’s responsible for recruiting musicians to bring Dethklok’s music to life. The fictional characters may poke fun at metal stereotypes, and the carnage wrought in the animated television series may seem excessively crass, but musically, Dethklok is all business. Clench-fisted, intertwined guitar dynamics and explosive rhythmic dynamite propelled pummeling versions of “Bloodlines,” “Hatredcopter,” and an especially bruising performance of “Thunderhorse.” Animated images and cartoon snippets flashed across the video projection, and provided some comic distraction, while Dethklok cranked through its punishing set. If the entire project may seems a bit too clever or contrived, the music was certainly convincing, and as Jacob Bannon admonished earlier in the evening, “These guys aren’t fucking cartoons, they’re genuinely talented musicians.” He was right.

— Patrick Conlan

One night later, in Chicago . . .


The lineup at the Aragon Ballroom Saturday night was evidence enough of how popular metal is once again. Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge, and High On Fire represented a cross-section — and not nearly all-inclusive — of some of the genres supported by this broad wave of popularity. Most notable is the fact that the headlining band, Dethklok, is actually a marketing construct of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim show “Metalocalypse.” Metal may have finally jumped the shark with this tour.

The fictional, melodic death-metal band was brought to vivid life with well-choreographed videos on a screen, showing cartoon imagery and violent, video-game action perfectly timed with the double-bass drum assault. The actual musicians, mostly running through The Dethalbum and the recently released Dethalbum II (Williams St.), were anonymously stationed in the shadows at the front of the stage. The visual projection was the focus as it mixed animated, music-video montages with apocalyptic/military-experiment/sci-fi footage. The musicians behind the spectacle delivered the goods, with the full-house crowd — the majority of which were older males — reveling in the tongue-in-cheek allusions to the cartoon and fully participating in the over-the-top, Gwar/Spinal Tap-like parody.

Progressive metal upstarts Mastodon were all business for the bulk of their set, determined to rip through the seven songs on this spring’s critically acclaimed concept album, Crack The Skye (Warner Bros.). Opener “Oblivion” suffered from a far too quiet mix of vocals, but overall the four-piece from Atlanta (with a fifth member on synthesizer) was up to the task of presenting live what on album is a complex mix of metal styles, varied tempos, and mythic storytelling. Brent Hinds and Troy Sanders ably traded off frontman duties, with the scruffy Hinds taking the spotlight on the epic “The Last Baron” for the snaking guitar solos and the vocal promise that “we can set this world ablaze.” The band also used a video screen to display a dizzying tapestry of sci-fi, fantasy, and new-age mystic images to correspond to the musical twists and turns. After a complete rendition of Crack The Skye, Mastodon launched into selections from their previous albums to round-out their 75-minute set.

Converge, around since 1990 and the band with the longest history of the four, proved to be the most animated on stage during its 40-minute set. Frontman Jacob Bannon punctuated the hardcore, extreme style with spastic movements and sprints across the stage. The Salem, Massachusetts, foursome played selections from their new album, Axe To Fall, including the title track and “Reap What You Sow.” The familiar mathcore pattern was present in these tracks, mixing frantic and ultraslow tempos to maximum cathartic effect.

High On Fire started the show with a punishing 30-minute set in front of an early arriving crowd. The drums-bass-guitar trio plays the type of caveman metal one would imagine the orcs of Mordor would dig. Bare-chested singer/guitarist Matt Pike posed like a muscular guitar god, shredding the solo to “Waste Of Tiamat” and howling like Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister on “Rumors Of War,” gruffly declaring over the thundering din that “Evil never sleeps.”

— Jason Scales

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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