The world is at serious risk of taking Mastodon for granted.
Acclaim after acclaim followed the band in the 2000s, when Leviathan changed the metal landscape, Blood Mountain finessed their erratic virtuosity, and Crack the Skye was a cohesive, if slightly mind-altering, body of work they were confident to play in its entirety on tour.
Now that everyone has heard Mastodon, it’s easy to see them as having peaked – this is their third visit to the Barrowlands, and a step down after 2014’s Academy show.
Having shifted and defined what we think of as heavy music in the modern era, they have become familiar and welcome, but it’s been a little while since anyone has thought of them as game-changing.
It’s a strange thing too – watching them on the Barras stage, they change the game simply by existing; there’s nothing quite like them, in that they are masters of their instruments (but never resort to self-indulgence) and they meld chaotic thunder with genuine hooks that would fit on the radio and in a prog-rock purist’s playlist.
Not to mention, Emperor of Sand is one of the year’s more ambitious records, and a complete redemption after 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, a shaky record if only by the band’s own ridiculous standards.
Opening with the 14-minute ‘The Last Baron’ would be considered brave for many bands, but Mastodon fans know their albums front to back, and the climactic track from Crack the Skye is like an amalgamation of everything Mastodon do best, so it serves as an overture for the evening before they get to firing on all cylinders through a 90-minute set.
Of the new tracks ‘Show Yourself’ will have strong staying power in setlists; an initially confusing entry into the band’s canon, its pop flavour works in context, and like The Hunter, something so straightforward beside something like the more crushing ‘Precious Stones’ elevates both styles of delivery.
Their progressive sludge metal days are behind them, but they do still whip out ‘Megalodon’ and ‘Mother Puncher’ and enjoy doing so, which is a refreshing thing when so many bands with illustrious careers shun their past material.
Mastodon have had their issues live in the past, and continue to do so when playing outdoors, but the Barras serves them well; some vocal issues aside, the passion and energy see them through, and a game crowd that’s familiarised itself with all of the new songs helps when Brent Hinds’s voice gets lost in the mix.
They have certainly settled into a groove, especially when it comes to vocal duties shared between Hinds, Troy Sanders, and Brann Dailor, the latter somehow managing to have the clearest delivery while delivering athletic fills every few seconds on the drums.
This multipronged approach adds a confidence to a band that’s always been tight, but now more than ever feels like a singular unit, these four guys somehow managing to find commonality in what is complex music on every level.
It’s alright if Mastodon don’t conquer the world, but there was a time they were never off the lips of those who knew them, and based on this tour they still deserve to be there.
It’s a showcase of a career that’s void of errors, is sensible in progression, and is consistent in delivery – they still are a major player in heavy music, and long may they be so.
Words: Scott Wilson
Photos: Stewart Fullerton