MASTODON PORTENDS GREATNESS AT NEW JERSEY’S STARLAND BALLROOM — 2/10/07 show review
There are very few bands in rock and metal today that truly do things their own way. While there are plenty of great metal bands in the thriving metal world of the mid-late 2000s, most fit into a particular categorization. You could probably count the amount of truly unique bands on one hand. from the ’90s, Tool and Radiohead have made it through completely on their own terms, giving in musically to noone. A more recent band that seems to defy categorization is San Francisco’s Dredg. There are probably a couple of more that I’m forgetting. Add Mastodon to that list — which is why it comes as no surprise that this leg of their “Blood Mountain” tour came packaged with two bands who have seemingly very little to do with Mastodon musically — Converge and Priestess. Saturday night at the Starland Ballroom Mastodon proved their greatness and their potential, combining their incredible musicianship with their own zany brand of Black Sabbath / Led Zeppelin influenced metal. This band is going places, and is going to be around for years to come.
Most in-the-know fans have been following this band for years, since the release of 2002’s Relapse Records debut Remission. But the band is just now, after releasing it’s third full-length Blood Mountain in 2006 (now on the major label Reprise), beginning to hone in on its sound and its audience. Mastodon is doing it the old fashioned way, building a groundswell of support through relentless touring and deep, thoughtful music.
By major label standards, Mastodon would have been dropped long ago with their comparatively weak sales numbers (Blood Mountain has only moved a reported 75,000 units), and it remains to be seen whether their Relapse deal will hold up beyond this album. But the fact of the matter is, Mastodon is going to make whatever music Mastodon makes regardless of what label is printed on the CD cover — just listen to Blood Mountain‘s complex arrangements, rhythmic shifts, and the adventurous musicianship and songwriting, leading at times from Floyd-esque ethereal guitar passages into Sabbath-inspired doom-metal riffage. It sounds cliche to say, but in this era of mostly disposable pop bands, who else is writing music like this these days?? Answer: no one.
All of this frames the context for Mastodon’s show Saturday night. This was Mastodon’s show. Played Mastodon’s way. For the Mastodon fans who appreciate all the little intracacies and nuances of this band. It doesn’t matter that the boys jammed out instrumental sections of 6-minute album cuts; in fact, just the opposite, the audience ate it up. Of course there will always be your contingent of meatheads (the show was in Jersey, after all) in it for the mosh, the aggression, the rage. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. But most of the audience was there for the music, as evidenced by the wide array of ages and personalities in attendance.
The boys rocked through a set of mostly Blood Mountain material, opening with “This Mortal Soil” and on into “The Wolf is Loose,” in effect reversing the order of the album’s first two cuts. From there on it was mix and match, playing most of Blood Mountain with some older cuts as well. The Floydian intro to “Sleeping Giant” was a personal highlight for me; when Bill Kelliher’s delay guitar came in it sent shivers down my spine. The guitar interplay of Kelliher and Brent Hinds was striking, trading off riffs and harmonizing in perfect time while setting the tone for Troy Sanders’ bellowing vocals. But the highlight of the band for me was drummer Brann Dailor. This guy is simply unreal. His performance on record is great, but sometimes with drummers you need to see them live to fully understand the complexity of what they’re doing. Such was the case with Dailor. Dailor’s propensity for crazy fills reminds me of Keith Moon or Bill Ward, but his impeccable double-bass chops and ability to seamlessly move in and out of odd time signatures places him in the upper echelon of modern metal drummers. This kind of playing is rarely seen — most record producers would try to “dumb down” a player like Dailor. Yet another example of Mastodon doing it their own way with no compromises.
If this tour comes to your city make sure you go to the show. You will not be let down.