This show by metal heavyweights Mastodon will linger long in the memory

UK fans have had no shortage of opportunities to see Mastodon over the years.

Sunday, 20th January 2019, 12:07 pm
Updated Sunday, 20th January 2019, 12:09 pm
Mastodon performing at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Alistair Welford.

Indeed, while many acts omit the North East from their touring plans, Friday night’s show at the O2 Academy was the Atlanta, GA metallers’ fourth visit to Newcastle in the past decade; the previous a mere 13 months ago at Northumbria University.

With no new material to promote, the quartet evidently felt their latest jaunt in need of added spice, bringing not only a pair of esteemed support acts, but also a special guest in the form of Neurosis vocalist and bona fide cult hero Scott Kelly.

First things first, however; Led by Cave In frontman Stephen Brodsky and Converge drummer Ben Koller, the members of Brooklyn’s Mutoid Man have weighty CVs of their own, so it was little surprise that their early set drew a healthy audience.

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Unfortunately, a broken elbow scuppered Koller’s participation, with his place filled by the more-than-capable hands of Chris Maggio, formerly of kindred hardcore spirits Trap Them.

A lighter, less serious prospect than their main outfits, the trio (completed by bassist Nick Cageao) nevertheless proved a fine warm-up, delighting devotees and the uninitiated alike with their thrashy bursts and blithe interactions.

If they were exuberant, slightly daft openers, the entertainment factor was cranked up another notch with the arrival of Kvelertak.

Boasting a suitably inordinate six-piece line-up, this Norwegian outfit blend the cold intensity of black metal with the rollicking fun of good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

It’s a concept as unlikely as it is plain dumb – so the fact they pull it off with such rip-roaring vigour is something of a minor miracle.

And, while their characteristic ‘black ‘n’ roll’ (yes, really…) works on record, it’s an even livelier proposition on stage, a triple-guitar attack and conveyor belt of hooks ensuring they tear through 45 minutes in what feels like half the time.

Having been set such a high bar, Mastodon wasted no time in flexing their muscles, asserting their full force with the bludgeoning sludge of opener Iron Tusk.

What followed was a set which touched on all seven of their studio albums, with particular credence given to their most recent – 2017’s Emperor of Sand – and most beloved – 2004’s classic Leviathan.

Given it’s celebrating its 10th anniversary, it was perhaps surprising to only hear two numbers from the group’s progressive opus Crack The Skye – though given that they performed the record in full here back in 2010, it’d be unscrupulous to feel short changed.

Back then, Mastodon live shows still drew their share of criticism, but these days the group are an ultra-slick touring machine, augmenting their famed musical prowess with greater urgency and notably improved vocals.

They’ve also come a long way as performers, and while remarkably tight, their songs nevertheless offer plenty of room for each member - bellowing bassist Troy Sanders, dazzling drummer Brann Dailor and twin guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher – to shine on his own merit.

For all their virtues as songwriters, however, the quartet are first and foremost a group of superlative musicians, which is partly why the arrival of Scott Kelly two-thirds through proved such a thrill.

A vocalist of rare authority, the Californian’s work with esteemed experimental outfit Neurosis has earned a devoted following, marking him among modern metal’s most influential figures.

His addition as a de facto fifth member changed the dynamic entirely. Shorn of their vocal duties, his new bandmates were only too happy to fade into the background, focusing on their forte as riff-makers supreme as Kelly led them through the likes of Aqua Dementia, Diamond In The Witch House and a truly bone-crunching Blood And Thunder.

It was a heavyweight collision, and for all that they’re likely to return, you get them impression that this particular Mastodon show will linger long in the memory.