Mastodon + Gojira + Kvelertak @ Metropolis – 29th October 2014

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With a decade and a half of skull-crushing riffs at their disposal, Atlanta’s metal behemoth Mastodon rolled into Montreal for their long awaited return to Metropolis. And they brought not one, but two amazing opening acts along with them.

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First up, Kvelertak (not “Kvelertek” as listed on the venue’s sign outside!) got the party well and truly started with some dirty rock n roll and the strangely compelling sight of vocalist, Erlend Hjelvik, wearing an owl on his head for the first song of the night. He successfully manages to scream those gnarly vocals of his without losing his feathered friend, before removing it for the remainder of their all-too-short 30 minute set.

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As his five Norwegian bandmates belt out their black metal-inspired hardcore rock’n’roll around him, Hjelvik prowls the stage, headbanging along and summoning the crowd like some crazed preacher. Tracks like Bruane Brenn and the driving Blodtørst prove that this is a band that has found its own sound and tonight they deliver it with a certain swagger which will surely have won over new fans while keeping existing ones more than satisfied.

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Prior to tonight’s show there seems to be as much anticipation for France’s Gojira as there is for the headliners. The four-piece have been steadily winning over audiences for a few years now, with their modern progressive metal setting new bars for the genre. Frontman, Joe Duplantier, is a formidable figure with a voice that has all the ferocity of a pissed off doberman. His brother Mario, meanwhile, proves why he is one of the most revered players in the metal world. Tonight he leaves out his usual brief drum solo, allowing more time for his band’s relentlessly immense arsenal of songs.

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The Heaviest Matter of the Universe receives a hero’s welcome as its battering rhythms encourage a sea of banging heads and flying crowd surfers. Backbone continues the theme before Love eases us into a false sense of security before the riffs return to a new level of intensity, Mario’s drumming reaching breathtaking speeds. The jagged rhythms of Toxic Garbage Island perfectly soundtrack Joe’s lyrics of man’s effect on his environment as he screams “The great pacific garbage patch is exhausting and the world is sliding away in a vortex of floating refuse”. Indeed, Gojira’s subject matter is never predictable or cliched and is another reason why they’re somewhat unique in the world of heavy music.

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Joe seems happy to be able to converse with the crowd in his native french language, telling us the band are due to return to the studio to record new material, before promising they’re already planning a return to Montreal once the new album is wrapped.

The mighty L’enfant Sauvage, from their latest album of the same name, is a set highlight, and Vacuity ends things in fine style, leaving Mastodon very much with a tough act to follow.

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Any signs that the headliners are intimidated by their impressive support bands are well hidden as they confidently launch into set opener, and new album opener, Tread Lightly, and for the following 80 minutes the capacity crowd is treated to exactly what they’ve come for – a night of heads-down, no frills, intelligent metal from a Grammy-nominated band who have become well respected throughout the world.

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Mastodon couldn’t look more metal if they tried! An explosion of straggly hair, facial tattoos and Amish beards, they’d make great cartoon characters but you certainly wouldn’t want to upset any of them if you met them down a dark alley. There’s very little interaction from the band throughout their set, they simply let the music do the talking with the punishing riffs and complicated time signatures that have become their trademark. The band often have more in common with Canadian prog-rock legends Rush than they do with many of their metal contemporaries, thanks to their musicianship, complex compositions and eclectic lyrical motifs drawing heavily on science fiction, fantasy and history.

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The short, sharp shock of Blasteroid is Mastodon at their ferocious best but it’s on songs like Megalodon that their intricate playing really comes to the fore, shifting from pulverisingly intense rhythms to twisted segways of technical virtuosity. Behind the walls of riffs though are layers of melodic subtlety that could be comparable with classical music and jazz. And yet, there seem to be no pretentions in this band. They simply seem to be playing music they love and bringing everyone along for the ride.

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Occasionally, the complexity of the songs can become almost challenging to keep up with, and you could be forgiven for wishing they’d pepper the set with more accessible tunes such as recent single The Motherload. There’s little in the way of visuals either; a few lazers here and there look dramatic but otherwise it’s a wall of amps, a backdrop that’s clearly too big for the venue and four guys who spend more time looking at their instruments than they do at the crowd.

Nobody here seems to be complaining though, and the final trio of Crystal Skull, Blood and Thunder and the epic Pendulous Skin end things on a high. A quick “Merci beaucoup Quebec” gets a welcome response from the crowd and an impressive night of heavy music draws to a close.

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Gojira Setlist:
Ocean Planet
The Axe
The Heaviest Matter of the Universe
Backbone
Love
Toxic Garbage Island
L’enfant Sauvage
Vacuity

Mastodon Setlist:
Tread Lightly
Once More ’Round the Sun
Blasteroid
Oblivion
The Motherload
Chimes at Midnight
High Road
Aqua Dementia
Ol’e Nessie
Halloween
Aunt Lisa
Divinations
Bladecatcher
Black Tongue
Ember City
Megalodon
Crystal Skull
Blood and Thunder
Pendulous Skin

Review & photos – Steve Gerrard

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