Mastodon aren’t particularly a band you’d expect to reach the kind of success they’ve achieved. The Hunter and their latest release Once More ‘Round The Sun took more of a straightforward approach to sludge metal in comparison to their earlier material. Accompanied by music videos featuring groups of twerking pole dancers and visually warping psychedelic guitar solos, their music may be more accessible, but they’re certainly not conventional. This UK tour sees them headlining Academies, a big statement for a heavy metal act with such an extensively progressed niche sound.
It’s clear the two support bands were hand picked by Mastodon, both of which give a respectful nod to the headliner’s origins. Big Business were impressive at times, but Krokodil really stood out as one of the most destructive opening acts you’re ever likely to see. After taking a few songs to shake off initial nerves, the band came through with a commanding set. Simon Wright particularly impressed as he delivered his punishing vocals, confidently fronting the concrete wall of sound that bellowed from behind him.
Mastodon opened perfectly with slow-burner ‘Tread Lightly’, with its edge-of-your-seat build up that had the audience hanging on by a thread before dropping into its soaring chorus. The more intricate and mind-boggling songs from their three concept albums – Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye – were a showing of fantastic musicianship. Brent Hinds sprawled across the front of the stage with rock n’ roll aplomb as he tore through the guitar solos he has become renowned for. ‘Bladecatcher’ caught everyone off guard with its schizophrenic song structuring, zig-zagging with perfect execution, whilst ‘Oblivion’ entranced with its astral-travel themes.
As an album so focused on delivering a hell of a chorus, the new songs sat comfortably into Mastodon’s live show and when ‘Ember City’ hit the “you were slipping away” section it cemented that notion. The thick and stodgy tone of Bill Kelliher’s rhythm guitar carried single ‘High Road’ and worked the crowd into a room of pumping fists and banging heads, a song sure to become a setlist staple.
Considering how obscure their music can be at times, taking sludge metal in its very raw form and marrying that with psychedelic prog, it’s a surprise they’ve even come this far. Fuelled by Troy Sanders’ rupturing bass that lifted Mastodon’s massive sound through every last nook and cranny of the high-ceilinged Guildhall, they have proven that their own brand of progressive sludge is at home on the big stage.