Mastodon

support Red Fang + Russian Circles
author AP date 22/11/17 venue Store VEGA, Copenhagen, DEN

Returning to Denmark for the first time since their drunken and poorly mixed debacle at the 2015 edition of Roskilde Festival, the general sentiment amongst both critics and Mastodon’s disciples in the country seems to be that the band has a lot to answer for tonight. We are in for something quite special however, as not only has the Atlanta, GA-based quartet invited Scott Kelly of Neurosis fame to join them on this tour as a collaborator, they have also brought with them one of their strongest supporting castes yet in the form Russian Circles and Red Fang, both of whom are widely regarded as heavyweights in their respective genres. The pieces are thus in place for an interesting and varied evening of metal within the sold-out confines of VEGA’s main concert hall.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Russian Circles

As much as the first band on stage tonight appeals to my taste, it has been hard for me to imagine Russian Circles working as anything other than a headlining act. Their dark and heavy take on post-rock has little immediacy; the compositions stretch well past conventional song lengths and bind their spells gradually, and as such the band demands a lot from its audience in terms of patience and willingness to immerse oneself in the music. But as the opening track, “309” off the trio’s 2011-outing “Empros”, courses through its slabs of monolithic sludge and eerie ambience, there is no hint of disappointment to be seen amongst the 1,500 patrons in attendance — it looks like most people ‘get’ what this Chicago, IL-born outfit is about. This is despite the fact that Russian Circles shun all spoken interaction with the audience in order to preserve the mystique that surrounds their music, and allow the lighting to reduce them into mere silhouettes. As the music is entirely instrumental, the concert becomes very much about the interplay between light and sound; earthy, yellow tones dominate when the band verges on its metallic tendencies in the likes of “Harper Lewis”, while blue hues take over during cinematic and atmospheric moments like in “Afrika” — a track featuring on last year’s “Guidance”. As such, the show is as beautiful to watch as it is to listen to; a moody and elegant experience which sucks the audience in and, for once, imposes a respectful and thoughtful silence upon the venue. And as “Deficit” brings the show to a conclusion after another smoothly executed segue, one is left with the impression that Russian Circles succeed in making a lasting impression on their audience tonight — judging at least by the comments of two patrons to my right, for whom the concert seems to be nothing short of an epiphany.

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Red Fang

Portland, OR’s stoner metal quartet Red Fang is a frequent sight on Danish venues’ gig listings, but despite playing to us so often, it seems like the band finds new ways to stay fresh and relevant every time. Tonight, they do so by gearing the setlist toward their long-standing fans and focusing on the breakthrough “Murder the Mountains” record from 2011, which accounts for nearly half of the material they air. This is an interesting choice, as the band only released the lauded “Only Ghosts” last year and might have been expected to concentrate on shaping those songs into live staples still. Instead though, the ‘Fang bites hard with an early pairing of “Hank is Dead” and the downright nasty “Throw Up”, both of which are far cries from the poppier style introduced on that latest outing. These are well-received by the audience, while, much to my surprise, “Blood Like Cream” gets a meagre reception in spite of its live-friendly rallying calls of “Churn it up! Churn it up! Churn it up!” that (for the first time ever I think?) are not sung back at bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam. In general, Red Fang has trouble connecting with the audience. There is the lone crowd surfer during the groove discharge of “Wires”, but excepting the moshpit that forms during the classic “Prehistoric Dog” off the band’s eponymous début album at the end, the going seldom gets very rowdy. Having been so impressed by the wildly entertaining show that Red Fang staged at Roskilde Festival last summer, the proceedings tonight feel quite flat and enervating.

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Mastodon

In one of the most incredible beginnings to a Mastodon concert that yours truly has witnessed, the band shows strength and confidence by setting loose the full 13 minutes of “The Last Baron” as the opening track. To my recollection, this is the first out of the dozen times that I have seen Mastodon live that “The Last Baron” has featured on the setlist, with the Georgians typically preferring the less grandiose likes of “Oblivion” and “Divinations” as representatives for 2009’s “Crack the Skye” — a true masterpiece and the band’s magnum opus in my eyes. Both of those tracks are included as well, but it is the labyrinthine psychedelics of that seldom-aired opus that chisels itself into my memory as the ultimate highlight tonight. The four musicians seem to revel in it too, looking gripped by and lost within its jammy expanse. It cuts quite the contrast to the following “Sultan’s Curse”, which appears on Mastodon’s latest album, “Emperor of Sand” and subscribes to a rather more direct and, by this band’s standards, catchy approach. I was personally not entirely convinced by that record but after “Show Yourself” makes its Danish live début further into the set, I must concede that the tracks borders on magical when played live, and judging by the audience response, it is certain to become a staple of Mastodon’s future setlists.

While those endeared by the new material may feast to their hearts’ content from the eight songs off “Emperor’”, it is nonetheless the next heaviest focus on “‘Skye” that keeps me proverbially on the edge of my seat. Were it up to me, both “The Czar” and “Ghost of Karelia” would have been welcome additions at the expense of two or three of those newer cuts, but judging by the rare enthusiasm shown by the band members as they present their latest creations to us, Mastodon, at least, could hardly by prouder or more energised by them. Even the traditionally introspective Bill Kelliher on guitar (who incidentally is credited for writing most of “Emperor of Sand”) allows himself to be carried away by the groove, even if it is nothing compared to the wide grins and back bending antics of bassist Troy Sanders. Another thing to notice is that the oft-criticised singing of drummer Brann Dailor is more or less on point tonight and is very much part of the reason why the aforementioned “Show Yourself” turns out to be such a success amongst the audience — his cleaner singing works like a dream, juxtaposed Sanders’ gravelly style as they alternate lead roles in the chorus and verse, respectively, and while the two will never be regarded as tenors, you do get the impression that this is an area that Mastodon has been putting some thought and effort into of late.

The highly anticipated cameo of Scott Kelly occurs in the encore, which comprises those songs from Mastodon’s repertoire that the Neurosis-frontman has been involved with in one way or another. On the surface of it, his presence on stage does not contribute that much — an extra vocalist on stage. But his abrasive and callous style of growling has a monumental effect on the likes of “Crystal Skull” and “Aqua Dementia”, transforming them into far darker and more desperate renditions that one is unlikely to ever experience again. One could however have hoped for this part of the concert to be more of a collaboration than a guest spot, perhaps with Kelly affecting the songs with his own, unique touch instrumentally as well as vocally. It feels like an opportunity foregone and I cannot be the only one at VEGA, wondering if the six songs featuring Kelly (completed by “Scorpion Breath, “Crack the Skye”, “Spectrelight” and “Diamond in the Witch House) actually turn out to be all that different — or at the very least different enough to warrant the hype about a special collaborative set. Be that as it may, it is hard to argue with the general consensus that the concert tonight goes down as one of Mastodon’s better appearances in Denmark and an acceptable apology for that notorious Roskilde ’15 performance.

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Setlist:

  • 01. The Last Baron
  • 02. Sultan’s Curse
  • 03. Divinations
  • 04. Ancient Kingdom
  • 05. Ember City
  • 06. Megalodon
  • 07. Andromeda
  • 08. Oblivion
  • 09. Show Yourself
  • 10. Precious Stones
  • 11. Roots Remain
  • 12. Mother Puncher
  • 13. Steambreather

— Encore —

  • 14. Scorpion Breath (with Scott Kelly)
  • 15. Crystal Skull (with Scott Kelly)
  • 16. Crack the Skye (with Scott Kelly)
  • 17. Aqua Dementia (with Scott Kelly)
  • 18. Spectrelight (with Scott Kelly)
  • 19. Diamond in the Witch House (with Scott Kelly)

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