written by Chris Familton
To get an idea of the current state of metal you’d be hard pressed to find a better club gig like this. Featuring three bands each representing a different strand of intelligent, hard and heavy guitar music the evening above all showed that there are many divergent threads to a genre that has without a doubt the most devotional of fans.
This was also a night to check out the just opened Hi-Fi venue (formerly the Forum) and there was still the smell of paint and fresh adhesive in the air. The place has been almost gutted and remodeled and it is an impressive large square space that retains the vertigo wraparound balcony but now feels like a much larger stage and floorspace. The place was full, almost uncomfortably so and with the overwhelming majority of the audience choosing to stay downstairs due to the limited sight lines from the balcony it was packed wall to wall.
Kvelertak opened proceedings with their viking metal that takes in punk and hardcore influences, pumps them full of testosterone and adrenalin and spits them back out at the audience. The stage was awash with windmilling arms, neck-breaking headbanging and in frontman Erlend Hjelvik they have a singer who prowls the stage like a less gothic and more crazy-eyed Glenn Danzig. The sound guy didn’t do them any favours early but aside from too much drums in the mix (as always) things settled down, the crowd warmed to the moshing task and the band proved themselves worthy of their peers on the bill. They unleashed their single Mjød late in the set and it stood out with a less metal and more hardcore approach. The rumbling rhythm and Hjelvik’s guttural exhortations was a set highlight and showed that a certain amount of raw energy and rough sonics serves them well and sets them aside from the likes of the band that followed them.
Gojira haven’t released an album in four years but there were still a legion of fans in attendance to experience the clinical onslaught of France’s finest metal band. From the first guitar notes and pummeling drums it was clear Gojira are in a league of their own when it comes to precision metal that combined the power of a sledgehammer with the finest intricacies of brain surgery. It felt machine-like at times – of the sci-fi cyborg kind – but the happy demeanor of the band and the intensity of their delivery convinced you these were humans at work. The Heaviest Matter of the Universe set the template for machine-gun kick drums, brutal stop/start riffage and vocals that finely balanced singing and demonic cookie monster growls. The drumming of Mario Duplantier was at times mind boggling, a dizzying mix of speed and precision that anchored their sound and led the way. He even left his kit mid-set to prowl the stage demanding more reaction from the audience which was swiftly returned with interest. Finishing with Toxic Garbage Island they departed the stage to a chant of GO-JI-RA from an audience whose love for the band had been satiated or new fans floored by the metal mastery of Gojira.
Another long wait followed before Mastodon had their chance to grace the stage and there was added tension with the announcement that there were some major power problems going on but they were going to try and play and see what would happen. As it turned out everything was fine, electricity was in abundance and was handled with both brutality and dexterity by one of the leading exponents of thinking person’s metal. A tip for punters attending gigs at The Hi-Fi is to avoid the upstairs area if you are at all concerned about experiencing the best sound. The bottom end of the sonic assault was all but absent while down at sea level the bass kicked like a mule in your chest cavity and the guitar bit and chewed with carnivorous intent.
The moment the band truly took the audience in the palm of their hand was during Megalodon where the song hits warp drive, the guitars head skyward and the audience’s heads nodded furiously in unison. From there on it was Mastodon’s night and they rolled out a pretty wide selection of tracks from their back catalogue while showcasing roughly half of last year’s The Hunter. The double dose of that album’s Thickening and Blasteroid showed they can incorporate almost pop melodies into their songs (in the case of the latter) and some swaying rhythms and psych swirl on Thickening. The best of The Hunter though came with Curl of the Burl and its massive chorus and audience sing along.
Brent Hinds was rendered fairly immobile with a moon boot protecting a leg injury while guitarist Bill Keliher is of the head down, keep playing variety so it was left to bassist Troy Sanders to make the personal connection with the crowd. He constantly urged the crowd to show their appreciation while forming his own personal circle pit on stage. All the while he locked down bass-lines that were the equal of his six stringed bandmates and lifted the songs into the stratosphere with his bloodlust vocals.
It was a wonderfully paced set that allowed the momentum to peak with the prog leaning Crack The Skye, the pure metal chug of Iron Tusk and the spiraling guitar work of Blood And Thunder. Anyone demanding an encore after that would have to be a true fan if they couldn’t leave there and then feeling fully rewarded. There was one encore and ironically it was the least Mastodon of songs, Creature Lives, with its Jane’s Addiction meets Ultravox sound, yet it felt wholly appropriate as an example of a band still at their creative peak both in terms of challenging songwriting and live performance. Metal doesn’t get more complete than Mastodon.