It's great when you get to see a band steadily improving their craft from tour to tour, and usually you will catch them on one particular night and know that, in a very short span of time, that things are going to really explode for them. I remember back in the early 80's having those feelings with Metallica, and look where that took them. Well, lately I've been having that same feeling in my gut with regards to Mastodon. Opening for Slayer two years back right after they released Leviathan, you could see the potential, and now on their own headline tour in support of their major label dedut Blood Mountain (and fresh off a triumphant gig on Ozzfest) the seeds have been planted. New Jersey's Starland Ballroom was the scene, jam packed with 1000+ fans and ready to groove to some thunderous, complex, progressive metal as only Mastodon can deliver. Along for the ride at this show were Priestess and Converge.
Read on for Pete Pardo and Ken Pierce's coverage of the show!
Pete Pardo-After some problems gaining access into the venue, by the time we were inside Priestess had already played their set, so we arrived in as Converge were into their first song. Despite the buzz surrounding this band, who seem to have a loyal following among the hardcore/screamo/metalcore crowd, they come across as very one-dimensional live. Even though they do throw in some crashing drum work and the occasional intricate guitar riffs, every song sounds exactly the same, thanks in part to their singer who sounds like he is screaming the same lines over and over again in every song. I can't tell you how many people who were standing around our area who turned to each other saying "Didn't they just play this song?" at least a few times during their set. Perhaps on CD this band offers up something original, but live it's just a wall of noise with a vocalist who has no variety to his delivery.
Mastodon hit the stage like conquering heroes, and the crowd swelled with anticipation. Those who have been to the Starland Ballroom probably know of the large floor area in front of the stage, which instantly started undulating with plenty of moshing and crowd surfing to the furious sounds of "This Mortal Soil". There are three bar areas at Starland which rise above the main floor, so most of the crowd can look down into the stage and floor area, which was pretty chaotic. Mastodon's brand of technical metal, prog, and hardcore is pretty unique, and they were on top of their game on this night. Mostly playing tracks from their two most recent records, plus a few oldies, this was a super set list that I don't think left anyone dissapointed. "I Am Ahab", "Iron Tusk", "March of the Fire Ants", "Aqua Dimentia", "Blood and Thunder", "The Wolf is Loose", etc. , it was all there, ending with an epic & crushing version of "Hearts Alive". Epic is a good way to describe the entire Mastodon set, with the twin guitar attack of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher leading the charge with waves of intricate lines and thunderous riffs, while drummer Brain Daillor pounds away unmercifully. This guy is one of the best drummer's alive today, make no mistake about it, sort of like metal's answer to Bill Bruford. The vocals of bassist Troy Sanders and Hinds were spot on, each one having a distinct style that adds so much to the band's overall sound. At times, this band gets so complex, like on "Circle of the Cysquatch" and "Bladecatcher" that I forgot if I was at a metal or a prog show. I dare anyone not to be mesmerized by the dreamy and intricate melodies of the stunning "Capillarian Crest", a song that you wouldn't think would go over so well with this kind of crowd, but believe me it did.
That's one of the interesting things about Mastodon-many folks in the industry are actually surprised by the growing popularity of this band. Let's face it, there's nothing commercial at all about their music, and there's certainly more extreme bands around. So how has this hard working band from Georgia, with their crushing blend of metal and complex prog rock, been able to get this far this quickly? I think much like Metallica did in the 80's, they relate to their fans without relying on an image, and let their music speak for themselves. Mastodon come to the game armed with their guitars, drums, jean, sneakers, and plenty of talent. Bravo to that.
Ken Pierce: When you listen to what Mastodon has done musically with their debut release "Leviathan" and then follow the progression along to their major label release "Blood Mountain", you will find that they are unlike most Metal bands that are on the scene today. Obviously they are heavy as their name implies powerful giants from ancient times but there is nothing "Old School" about them. In a world of Extreme and Black meets Death Metal we find Mastodon changing the mix by offering up elements akin to Fusion and Jazz. The resulting mix gives the listener Metal music that is both technical and avant-garde which gets twisted around into new blends of aggressive music. Tonight the band would be playing a sold out gig at Sayreville NJ's Starland Ballroom, and given this was the only vicinity show for me I just had to make sure we brought some level of coverage to the readers. I headed to the venue from Upstate New York with our Publisher Pete Pardo and I think we clocked about eighty miles from door to door by the time we arrived. After some initial confusion with entry we eventually made our way inside. Priestess and Converge would be direct support for the show but we would sadly miss anything that Priestess would be playing. Instead we would be in place at the exact time that Converge would be hitting the stage and at first I looked forward to this since I had heard several good things about them from fans of the Metalcore genre. To be quite honest, they just didn't do it for me and while energetic on the stage were coming off as if they were playing one long song. Every riff seemed the same and the singer was just not as original as others I had seen of late. Some of the crowd loved them, and others were not. My section kept hoping that each song was the last and as they progressed I hungered more and more for Mastodon music. Perhaps they are better on recording than I was able to appreciate at this gig. We shall see if they are on a bill I attend again.
It was a Metal thunder clap when Mastodon hit the stage and by now the entire floor of Starland was like an ocean of humanity. I've attended sold out shows at this place before and each audience becomes an entity unto itself so this was interesting to observe. I had secured a great spot on one of the side areas of the club which allowed me to see over the masses and right onto the stage. This is part of the appeal of this venue as there are a number of such locations and it allows the reviewer or the timid a little safer vantage point during the shows. I admit that being in such a venue under the circumstances was an incredible experience and this is part based on watching Mastodon's continual climb to the top of the Metal Mountain. I caught them as an opener for Slayer on a couple of occasions and with each appearance they seemed to be winning more and more fans over with their impressive and expressive levels of performance. Twin guitar slayers Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher quickly begin to mystify the crowd with their techniques and string shredding abilities. Bassist Troy Sanders growls through the material but it is more impassioned than a typical gut wrenching Metal style that many others are doing. Through it all is the incredible drumming of Brian Daillor – this guy is probably one of the best that Metal has in its ranks at this time. He performs like an octopus and is a machine of constant motion. He proves that the level of technical acumen can increase exponentially in this kind of music if you know how to execute it.
As a fan of Mastodon who is still on the new side, I was completely blown away by this show. The set list focused not only on their two well known releases of "Leviathan" and "Blood Mountain" but also delivered a couple of surprises. You could easily tell by the reaction of the audience that these regular guys from Georgia are one of the most appealing and hardest working of them all when it comes to bands on tour. I don't think anyone in attendance found any problems with the songs performed tonight. The energy in this room was intense and it looked like Mastodon was feeding off the power show by the flying bodies from the crowd. Oh yes my friends the moshing and crowd surfing was in full force from pretty much note one. The bands ever-climbing success might surprise some people but if this is the case then you need to both open up your mind and also check them out in concert. They are an experience that you will not soon forget and this is a great aspect to take away from a performance since there is no reliance on tricks or video screens. It is all about the Metal when it comes to Mastodon. Don't miss the boat on these guys and make some time to see what everyone is so excited about.
Mastodon Set List
This Mortal Soil
The Wolf Is Loose
I Am Ahab
Circle Of Cysquatch
March Of The Fire Ants
Where Strides The Behemoth
Colony Of Birchmen
Blood & Thunder