Mastodon

support Big Business + Krokodil
author AP date 15/12/14 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

For most fans of metal in Denmark, Mastodon holds a special place in their heart, and it is thus more an expectation than a pleasant surprise that the stoner/progressive metal titans should visit these shores when they head out for a European tour. Tonight marks the second time in less than a year that they’ve graced us with their presence, and marks the closing phase of the first leg of touring the world in support of their latest album ”Once More ‘Round the Sun” (a review of which you can read here). That Vega’s large hall is not sold out strikes me at first as baffling, but the circumstances may well owe to the segment of people that found said record a little underwhelming and, knowing the setlist would likely be heavily focused on material from it, chose to opt out this time. Mind you, attendance is by no means scant as the minutes tick in after my arrival, with the open balcony suggesting the venue is expecting plenty of people to fill the 1,550 capacity room.

All photos courtesy of Lykke Nielsen

Krokodil

Krokodil, the British group stitched together from current/former members of Hexes, Gallows, SikTh and Cry for Silence, nonetheless have the displeasure of inaugurating the festivities before a largely vacant hall as the attendees slowly trickle in, but even so they strike me as an efficient means for rustling the Mondays off of us with their crushing fusion of sludge, prog and noise metal. Sadly, a traditionally poor mix plagues their efforts from beginning to end with little improvement, leaving the monolithic weight of their music to be the fixating point of the performance. Three guitarists they may have, but more often than not the intricacies of songs like “Shatter” and "Reptilia Familiar" drown in the apocalyptic rumble of Daniel P. Carter’s 7-string guitar, James Leach’s bass, and Dan Foord’s highly textured drumming.

The six musicians - the line-up completed by vocalist Simon Wright, and six-string guitarists Alex Venturella (who, by the way, was recently confirmed as the new bassist of Slipknot) & Laurent Barnard - are all sporting bushy beards and full sleeve tattoos, looking like a band of lumberjacks, and they perform with the sort of energy and passion that makes it easy to ignore the lackluster quality of the sound. Wright, in particular, is a neverending source of action, slotting himself in front, behind and between the remaining members and indulging himself in a flurry of unpredictable moves throughout the set. His compatriots are less extroverted to be sure, but as a whole, Krokodil emit this air of authority that is difficult to escape. It's loud, it's heavy, and most of all, the music is original. No surprise that a significant portion of the constantly swelling audience looks to be responding positively to it.

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Big Business

Due to guitarist Scott Martin’s undergoing back surgery recently, Big Business are reduced on this tour to a duo comprising bassist Jared Warren & drummer Coady Willis, both of whom also double on vocals. Noting that this is a reality I’m unaware of until after the concert, it strikes me as even more impressive now that Warren & Willis are able to craft such exhilarating music out of two rhythmic instruments, Warren’s chord based, neck wide work often betraying little difference to an actual guitar; and Willis’ drumming drawing parallels to the masterful histrionics of Mastodon’s Brann Dailor. Feet firmly planted in stoner metal territory, there is nonetheless a tongue-in-cheek feel to these proceedings that reminds me in equal parts of Baroness, Bombus, Red Fang and Torche; and despite numbering just two people on stage, Big Business cut an immense presence through their continuous emission of passionate energy.

Willis is not only good at slamming his skins - he's also focusing sizable portions of his cerebral capacity on performing (a feat surprisingly rare among drummers, I find) and harmonising with Warren's powerful singing; and Warren himself seems to be in possession of an infinite reservoir of slick bass licks, riffs and grooves, never forgetting to brandish his instrument and exchange humorous remarks with a visibly impressed audience. It speaks even more to Big Business' credit that when Willis has a pressing issue with one of his bass pedals at the middle of a song, Warren is able to occupy the awkward silence with some amusing mutterings that, when the duo seamlessly continue exactly where they left off, sounds like a natural part of the track. There are some obvious limitations enforced upon the diversity of the music of course, but with the set clocking in at approximately 35 minutes, this never really becomes an issue, allowing an incomplete Big Business to stage an extremely convincing performance here.

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Mastodon

Discounting the fact that Mastodon have, for a long time, enjoyed a status as one of my absolute favourite professors of metal, my sixth previous live experiences with the quartet have yielded invariably positive impressions - and as such, it is only reasonable that my expectations for their showing tonight tower higher than with most other artists. This is a band that prefers to soldier on without unnecessary rambling, employing only the bare necessities of stage production for the delivery of their music which, let's face it, contains enough complexity and inspires enough awe on its own to warrant such furbelows superfluous. The backdrop tonight - an expanded take on the artwork of "Once More 'Round the Sun" - looks splendid to be sure, and the colourful, contrastive lighting does more than enough to emphasise the psychedelic undertones inherent to Mastodon's music. But above all, it is the music, and the quality of its live execution, that we are all here to behold.

Unfortunately, as "Tread Lightly" and "Once More 'Round the Sun" commence the proceedings, it becomes clear that drummer Brann Dailor and bassist Troy Sanders are not having their finest hour in terms of their vocal delivery, and in general, there is an inescapable touch of business as usual to the way in which the quartet blast through the first half of the set. Heavily favouring the most recent effort, it is a pleasure to witness the amount of people here that know and appreciate the new material, but even so it is left to "Oblivion" off 2009's "Crack the Skye" to provide an early standout moment before the trio "The Motherload", "Chimes at Midnight" & "High Road" is rolled out convincingly, but not remarkably, the unified power of the crowd's vocal chords often exceeding what Sanders & Dailor can muster up tonight.

It is vital then, that guitarist Brent Hinds steps up to the task - and so he does - producing that redemptive element necessary to prevent Mastodon's concert tonight from lapsing into mediocrity. His quirky, atypical vocals sound excellent here, and the man seems to be beaming with enthusiasm, especially as the set moves into its second half, in which the band's earlier work is given more emphasis. Indeed, "Aqua Dementia" seems to power the four piece into a lengthy crescendo riddled with the sort of energy expulsion we're used to seeing, and with a selection of rare picks like "Ol'e Nessie" and "Bladecatcher" contained therein, it's hard for a Mastodon fan to not get carried away.

Unsurprisingly, as the concert races toward its conclusion with stuff like "Black Tongue", "Megalodon" and "Crystal Skull" all given an airing, the audience grows progressively wilder, culminating in one of the ultimate metal classics: "Blood and Thunder", which has us all off our feet, jumping and moshing like it's some sort of catharsis. But despite the magnificent finale, tonight's Mastodon gig must sadly go down as the worst of the seven I've seen now, the solace being that this band's bottom level is so much higher than the vast majority of their peers'.

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Setlist:

  • 1. Tread Lightly
  • 2. Once More ‘Round the Sun
  • 3. Blasteroid
  • 4. Oblivion
  • 5. The Motherload
  • 6. Chimes at Midnight
  • 7. High Road
  • 8. Aqua Dementia
  • 9. Ol’e Nessie
  • 10. Halloween
  • 11. Aunt Lisa
  • 12. Divinations
  • 13. Bladecatcher
  • 14. Black Tongue
  • 15. Ember City
  • 16. Megalodon
  • 17. Crystal Skull
  • 18. Blood and Thunder

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