They say when it rains, it pours, and after weeks of cold yet dry weather in Bristol the heavens finally open in time for 1600 souls to make their way to the O2 Academy for the final night of Mastodon’s most recent UK tour. To add insult to injury as far as the gents are concerned, they are being directed back outside the venue for comfort breaks owing to refurbishment of the conveniences, but it’s a small price to pay when this is the hottest ticket in town tonight by a country mile.
As far as the music is concerned, Mutoid Man are a good choice to open things up. The three piece have a nice blend of thrash, traditional, stoner and sludge metal, although far more the former than the latter, with ‘Kiss of Death’ and ‘Date With the Devil’ both heavily drawing on Metallica for influence. They’re having a lot of fun on stage – frontman Stephen Brodsky (of Cave In fame) and bassist Nick Cageao are flipping middle fingers at each other at every opportunity – and it makes for a solid, if not particularly ground-breaking half hour. Kvelertak come flying out the traps and don’t let up for a furious forty-five minutes that sees a big crowd reaction and pits opening across the floor. It’s perhaps telling that the bulk of the set comes from their first two records, which were far better received than 2016 Nattesferd, but nobody seems to care one bit. The energy is infectious, the triple guitar attack works in their favour and there’s a raucous party atmosphere…but something’s not right, and it’s Ivar Nikolaisen. The singer came into the band last year to replace long-term member Erlend Hjelvik and for all his presence and willingness to jump into the audience (he’s in there by ‘Nekroskop’ which is song number three), his leather jacket and skinny jeans make him stand out like a sore thumb against his bandmates and he just doesn’t have the same grit that his predecessor did. Sure, he’s a good frontman, but he’d look more at home in a different band.
The O2 Academy is notorious for sound issues, but Mastodon either get lucky or are wise enough to bring their own PA. Either way, they sound utterly monstrous tonight, from the opening notes of ‘Iron Tusk’ through to the closing strains of ‘Blood and Thunder’. On record they’ve always been great but they’re an entirely different beast live, incredibly tight and showing exactly why it’s a travesty that they’re not already in arenas on these shores. It’s such a captivating show that when Troy Sanders introduced ‘Chimes at Midnight’, a ripple of shock goes through the room as the realisation sets in that the first fifteen minutes have flown by in the blink of an eye. Every one of the twenty songs played is treated as the absolute highlight by both band and audience alike, but both ‘Steambreather’ and a ferocious ‘Capillarian Crest’ just get their noses clear along with ‘Megalodon’, which is back up by the best of the immense, psychedelic images projected behind the band onto the screens.
Two thirds in and the band are joined by Scott Kelly of Neurosis, who has been guesting with them on this run, and somehow makes everything ten times heavier. It’s no surprise that Kelly is perfectly suited to the likes of ‘Aqua Dementia’ and ‘Crystal Skull’, but the fit is so seamless that it’s not unjustified to suggest he should join permanently, a view echoed by many once proceedings are over. Kelly takes lead vocals on the majestic ‘Crack the ‘Skye’ and even grabs a guitar for ‘Diamond in the Witch House’, as if attempting to test the foundations of the venue itself in the most metal way possible. The building survives, thankfully, and the experience of this show will do so for a long, long time in the minds of everyone fortunate enough to be a witness. Mastodon have, quite simply, slayed.
Photos by Normandy Photography.