LIVE: Mastodon / Kvelertak / Mutoid Man @ O2 Academy, Leeds

By Liam Knowles

If there’s one thing British metalheads like to whine about more than the Download lineup, it’s that we don’t get amazing touring packages when American bands grace our shores. Tonight, progressive metal titans Mastodon roll into Leeds with two of the most interesting bands in the genre in tow, and get straight to work silencing those aforementioned whiners.

Unfortunately, traffic issues and Leeds Academy’s notoriously bad queuing arrangement meant missing most of Mutoid Man, but the two last songs of their set sounded enormous. Thick, velvety guitar and bass tones twist and turn over thunderous drums through their unique blend of blistering metal and sensual classic rock. Vocalist and guitarist Stephen Brodsky oozes showmanship, having honed his perfect balance of charming daftness and brooding intensity over the last couple of decades in a little band called Cave In. They may have been on early, but the steadily growing crowd is fully engaged and the bar has been set high for the rest of the evening.

Main support, Norwegian sextet Kvelertak, are another band that mix old and new influences, but do it completely differently and again sound like nothing else out there. The band open with ‘Apenbaring’ from their sophomore record ‘Mier’, and follow this with a healthy mix of material from across their three albums. New vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen had big shoes to fill when Erlend Hjelvik left last year, but he has just as much energy as his predecessor and his vocal performance is impeccable. The best way to describe Kvelertak is that they’re a black metal Thin Lizzy; for every harrowing shriek over a scorching blastbeat, there’s a silky major key guitar harmony that will lodge itself in your brain for days, and by the end of Kvelertak’s set there’s not a single head in the room not being banged. The only time they don’t sound perfect is on the material from their self-titled debut. These tracks are played noticeably slower than on record, which isn’t so bad on more mid-paced tracks like ‘Mjod’, but on ‘Fossegrim’ and the usually high-speed ‘Blodtorst’ it’s incredibly jarring.

After Kvelertak’s inconsistent excellence, Mastodon deliver a set that can only be described as immaculate. The band walk on stage to ‘Singing In The Rain’ blaring over the PA before unleashing a devastating three-song combo of ‘Iron Tusk’, ‘March Of The Fire Ants’ and ‘Mother Puncher’. Mastodon’s sound is flawless, with every single element of their complex songs ringing clear and true. Troy Sanders and Brent Hinds have been known to vary in the quality of their live vocal performance, but tonight both sound monolithic as they provide the top layer of their intricate sound.

The set itself is 20 songs in length and includes at least one track from each of their full length releases. From this it’s clear to see how many different sounds Mastodon have experimented with over the years, but also how unswerving they have been in keeping the quality high and making sure their music is always interesting, challenging, and unapologetically Mastodon. From the glistening soundscape of ‘Sleeping Giant’ to the math-tinged fury of ‘Capillarian Crest’ , Mastodon have pored over every tiny detail and it’s that level of musicianship and songwriting that has made them one of the biggest acts in metal, and one of the few that could realistically take the festival headline slots once the last of the old guards have shuffled off this mortal coil.

As if tonight’s performance wasn’t special enough, the band are joined on stage by long-time collaborator and Neurosis vocalist Scott Kelly for the last seven songs of the set, adding yet another layer to their already gargantuan sound. Mastodon cite Neurosis as one of their biggest influences and they’re clearly thrilled to have one of their heroes and great friends join them on stage to lend his distinctive voice to the likes of ‘Crystal Skull’ and ‘Crack The Skye’. The five musicians on stage finish the triumphant set with the iconic ‘Blood And Thunder’, and if there was a single person in the room who doubted Mastodon’s importance and relevance in modern metal, then the rapturous battle-cry of ‘WHITE! WHALE! HOLY! GRAIL!’ from the crowd will have smashed those doubts into tiny fragments.

As his band mates leave the stage, drummer Brann Dailor hangs around for a quick closing speech, something that catches the audience off guard. He’s charming and humble, and surprisingly funny, and makes sure the punters leave the venue with a smile on their face as they head out into the dreary Yorkshire night. Mastodon may be the most important metal band to have emerged this century, but they still recognise the importance of their fans and keeping them happy. This attitude should see them continue to rise through the ranks and hopefully keep supplying us with ridiculous riffs for years to come.