Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mastodon shreds Nashville with help from Gojira and Kvelertak

It was one of the most hotly anticipated metal tours Nashville has seen in awhile, and the city's denizens turned out in full force. Atlanta heavy metal act Mastodon is part progressive metal and part sludge, but has been turning heads recently with their ability to make those sounds accessible to the masses. Their latest album, Once More Round the Sun, was recorded in nearby Franklin, Tennessee, and the lines nearly stretched to the end of the street in anticipation of the band's performance.

The set served as a showcase for the band's new found sound. With plenty of catchy, sing-a-longable hooks, it shows just how much they've changed from over the years. Their sound is characterized by an abundance of noodly guitar leads, with a tendency to jam out for sure. Brent Hinds demonstrated his guitar mastery all throughout the night, while drummer Brann Dailor made a rare appearance on lead vocals during one of the night's most propulsive cuts, "The Motherload." There's a significant difference between their earlier material and that of the last two records, but they've maintained their credibility by augmenting their catchy hooks with top notch musicianship.

Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds (left) are proving their place as one of the greatest metal bands of our time.

They started breaking out older stuff later in the set, but make no mistake -- with only two songs from Blood Mountain and three from Leviathan, this was a showcase for the newest album.

"Ol'e Nessie," from their 2002 debut Remission, stood in stark contrast to the rest of the set with its coarse, guttural shouted vocals and slow, crushing riffwork. But it was the older hits that had the fans tearing the place up. None did better than "Blood and Thunder," which tells the tale of a doomed sailing crew attempting to take down a mighty white whale. The gale force intensity coming off the pummeling guitar riff coupled with the devastating impact of Dailor's crash cymbal is enough to make you feel like you're right there with the crew, staving off a pounding rainstorm and aiming your harpoon right at the killer whale. Needless to say, the crowd lost their shit.

On the downside, their sound was kind of muddy -- not exactly the most crisp, clear or sharpest sound by any stretch of the imagination. The vocals in particular were very hard to hear, and has been that way both times I've seen them. Hinds has drawn flak in the past for his live vocals, and he honestly isn't the best pure singer of all time so that's likely a design decision. But when it comes to songs you're less familiar with it's hard to pick them out by their melody. It seems strange since that's what they're focusing on more these days.

Erlend Hjelvik and the guys from Norwegian metal band Kvelertak swipe, slash, and shred the stage to pieces.

They were preceded by French heavy metal act Gojira, whose star has been rising ever since the release of their 2012 album L'Enfant Sauvage. I had previously seen this band when they held down the opening slot on Metallica's Death Magnetic tour in 2009, but all I can remember is some long haired guy frantically running around the stage. This time around, with a much closer view, I can say they are most definitely the most unique metal band I have seen. This is clearly more thinking man's metal. Joe Duplantier's vocals sound like a demon serpent being dragged out of a portal from hell. It's very heavy with a good bottom end. You could mosh to it, but there's much more to it than that. The best way I can describe them is exotic, and I'm always pleased when I get to witness a band like that.

To top things off, we all had the good fortune to see Kvelertak as the opening band. These guys are a blast to watch on stage. They're like viking conquerors, come to smite us with heavy metal. The band really gets into it, rocking out hard and spinning their instruments around. Their frontman, Erlend Hjelvik, and knows how to play to a crowd. He came out wearing an owl mask for their opening number "Åpenbaring." They hit loud, fast, and hard and played with the swagger of 70s rock and roll stars. The only downside is there's not much variety in their sound as of right now, but they're still a young band and they're getting there. If you get a chance to see any of these three bands anytime soon, I highly recommend you do so.

Joe Duplantier of Gojira conjures odd time signatures and crushing rhythms to forge artistic and forward thinking metal.

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