I live in what amounts to the absolute middle of nowhere in Pennsylvania. We manage a few tourist seasons, but besides that, nothing happens here. So, for two metal giants like Gojira and Mastodon (with Kvelertak in tow) to even come within an hour of this place, it takes a small miracle. Having been a Mastodon fan since 2009, and a recent Gojira convert, it’s fair to say that the stars had aligned in my favor.
Finally making it inside the theater after battling the biting cold outside, we were greeted by a man wearing a taxidermied owl on his head. This was to be Kvelertak – a band hailing from Norway, bringing along with them a mix of classic rock, stoner and black metal, and a ton of energy. They didn’t get much time to play – only 4 songs – but in the time they did, I was pretty impressed by them. I’m not usually into the stoner side of metal, barring a handful of bands, but the rock and roll vibe they brought to their music made it much more fun to listen to, and it’s obvious they don’t take themselves too seriously. From what I could tell, their live sound was pretty on point – at times the backup vocals (a surprisingly large part of their sound, since they traded off vocalists fairly often) were drowned out by the instruments, but otherwise they did the best they could in the time they were given.
Now, having come to the show mainly for Mastodon, I’m a bit loathe to admit that Gojira was the highlight of the night. Gojira also played a fairly abbreviated set, clocking in at 8 songs, but they used the time they had spectacularly. Their live sound is absolutely massive, with their punishing guitar riffs sounding just as clear and heavy as they do on record, and Joe’s howls and screams are just as guttural. I may not be familiar with a chunk of the songs they played, but I did recognize highlights from From Mars to Sirius, including ‘Ocean Planet’ and ‘The Heaviest Matter of the Universe’, as well as cuts from L’Enfant Sauvage (‘The Axe’ and the title track). Technical, heavy metal has always been more my speed, and with Gojira, they manage to do that perfectly, while still retaining a healthy serving of great songwriting and unique playing. I could also immediately tell that this band has a strong connection with their audience, because the crowd absolutely fed off of their energy in a beautifully chaotic give and take of pummeling riffs and intense moshing. It seems like the crowd they draw is also a more respectful one as well, because it was perhaps the first pit I’ve ever been in in which I didn’t feel like I had to fight for my life and dodge stray elbows, but rather could dance and have fun in. The result was a performance I could absolutely lose myself in, moshing, headbanging, and watching in awe of the tight musicianship and great songs they delivered.
Mastodon is an entirely different beast altogether. After the intensely technical and death-metal tinged Gojira set, on came Mastodon to deliver their signature blend of loose, groovy, psychedelic metal. This was truly a Mastodon headliner, as the band mined material from Remission right up to their newest album, Once More ‘Round the Sun (which was heavily featured – out of the eleven songs on that album, they played eight). Their stage set up wasn’t really anything special, featuring a huge banner with the intricate artwork from Once More ‘Round the Sun and a few lasers, but it was enough to enhance the experience (especially during the slower and more psychedelic sections). Musically, the band was on point, rarely flubbing a note or a fill. There was a funny moment when, after playing a build up of creepy spoken word and sound effects, the band couldn’t start the song due to an issue with a string on Brent’s guitar. He played it off perfectly, fixing the issue himself while goofing off on his mic. Vocally, however, Mastodon has always been spotty, and that didn’t change last night. Troy and Brann have improved by leaps and bounds since Crack the Skye, and are able to perform much of the material without problem, but Brent struggles a little on his higher parts (though his vicious scream is still perfectly intact). What they can’t replicate in the vocal department, however, is made up with in terms of sheer energy, because their songs deliver hard-hitting riffs and sing-along sections that engage the crowd, at times turning the entire front section into one huge pit (being in the pit during ‘Blood and Thunder’ is enough to shock even the most hardened pit king or queen). Because, in the end, that’s what this kind of show is about: it isn’t American Idol where hitting every note perfectly makes or breaks you, but rather the energy you bring and how much fun you can get the audience to have, and Mastodon is the perfect embodiment of that.
While I would’ve preferred if Gojira and Mastodon had a more evenly matched set time, that’s about the only complaint I have for this show. Rarely do bands of this stature come around my area, and even more rarely do they deliver such a killer show that I can barely walk the next day. If you’re a fan of any of the three bands playing, are curious about any of them, or even if you’re a metal fan in general – don’t miss this tour. Kvelertak is a fun mix of rock and various metal genres, Gojira brings intense technical metal, and Mastodon is the quintessential modern metal band, journeying through their 15 year career with a wealth of different cuts. You won’t be disappointed.