Mastodon, Wolverhampton Civic Hall - review
Nothing was going to test the new sound system at Wolverhampton’s premier music venue more than the combined volume of these three heavy hitters.
The crowd was busy if not full, the mood rowdy if not riotous. It was perfect for a feast of headbanging, while allowing the ageing and a lady near us on crutches to join in without fear of impending doom.
First up were Russian Circles. An instru-metal Chicago collective they brood and snarl like an angry And So I Watch You From Afar. Their crescendo building efforts got the crowd going with some crunching riffs. They did their warm-up job perfectly.
Red Fang, on next, can often be let down by some venue’s PAs that crush their acid-tinged guitars into one blurry mess. But after an iffy start for Hank Is Dead that made them sound quite far away, the techies got it pretty much spot on.
The grumbling bass in Throw Up sounded vicious. The guitars were allowed to sing in Malverde. That delicious outro to Wires positively thumped, especially in this faster, more aggressive version.
And their usual finale of Prehistoric Dog had horns up, bodies flaying and hair well and truly swirling with its furious melodies.
The changeover between each band was a breath of fresh air. We barely had 15 minutes to grab a pint while the Wolves fans frantically scrambled to see if their side had added to Leo Bonatini’s early goal in the derby at Blues.
The lights were dimming before people were back in position. And Mastodon were upon us.
Now here is a band who can play. Technically, they are absolutely magnificent. It can be argued that they are the most technical band to burst out of this genre into the mainstream since Metallica.
They hit us again and again with thunderous tunes, opening up with a stirring The Last Baron. It was a great start, a softer underbelly being shown before the set grew in volume and ferocity as it went on.
The instrumentals in Bladecatcher sounded great, the sound system now really showing it could give us loud without fuzz and too much distortion.
Troy Sanders, Brann Dailor and Tormund Giantsbane AKA Brent Hinds all switch vocals and neither sounds out of key or volume. The pitched choruses of Ember City showed just how good singers they actually are live.
They played a cross section from all of their themed and story-driven records and nobody around us was left wondering what was happening in front of them. It seemed to be the right set for this adoring crowd.
The visuals, too, couldn’t be ignored. The neon and cartoon beasts bursting out of the thin, vertical screens were all bulging eyeballs, discoloured teeth and sharp claws. The colouring was magnificent and provided a spectacular backdrop to the band.
Steambreather from their latest record Emperor Of Sand and Blood and Thunder from Leviathan were chosen to close and went down a storm with the many denizens wearing their merch. The upbeat wall of sound chorus of the latter had voices around us screaming along, while the sliding riffs in the latter showed how rip-roaring they can get as their fingers slide effortlessly over the strings.
No cliché encore. No messing about. Just play, impress and leave. More gigs should be like this. Perhaps the Civic Hall isn’t as problematic as first feared.