It’s late October in Kansas City and while many in the city were preoccupied with game #2 of the World Series, I made my way to the Uptown Theater where I’m about to experience an international musical event of mammoth proportions. Out of Atlanta, Georgia, the mighty Mastodon have been touring in support of their sixth studio album, Once More ‘Round the Sun, and tonight they are primed to deliver an epic set filled with their incomparable blend of musical styles, a characteristic which has defined the band throughout their creative evolution.
Opening the evening’s show is Kvelertak, a heavy hitting six-piece group from Stavanger, Norway, comprised of Erlend Hjelvik on vocals, Vidar Landa, Bjarte Lund Rolland and Maciek Ofstad on guitars, bassist Marvin Nygaard and drummer Kjetil Gjermundrød. Attempting to label Kvelertak as just a metal band would be doing them a disservice, as the Norwegian sextet encompass stylistic nuances from many genres, incorporating hard rock, metal and punk elements into a truly unique sound that is charged with the same kinetic energy that they bring to the stage. I got a chance to see these guys for the first time in 2013 in Lawrence, KS, when they opened up for High On Fire.
Kvelertak frontman Hjelvik opens the set wearing an owl headdress, as the band starts out with “Åpenbaring” from their 2013 album Meir. All of Kvelertak’s lyrics are sung in their native tongue of Norwegian. However, despite the language barrier, the music speaks for itself and the energy delivered by this band is enough to keep you engaged in the performance. After the opening song, the group dives right into another track off of Meir, the catchy “Bruane Brenn.”
Kvelertak’s live performance is where the band brings together all the meaty hooks found throughout their songs, and blends them with an all-out energetic assault on the stage. The three guitarists and bass player lay down a thick, chunky sound and everyone joins in on the backing vocals. Playing through eight songs that provide a fairly even selection from the band’s 2010 self-titled debut album and 2013’s Meir, the short set on this tour leaves everyone wanting to hear more. They close their setlist with the song “Kvelertak”, which translates as “Stranglehold”, another hook-driven rocker from the Meir album. Kvelertak is a band that brings their A-game to the stage and deserves a crowd that gives back the same energy that Kvelertak delivers during their live performance.
France’s sonic juggernaut, Gojira, consisting of the Duplantier brothers, Joe (vocals/guitar) and Mario (drums), with Christian Andreu on lead guitar and Jean-Michel Labadie on bass guitar, offered direct support on this tour. Crushing the stage beneath the weight of their low-end sonic assault, Gojira delivered a set that pummeled the audience and brought the already energized crowd to a frenzy. As soon as the band broke into their first song, “Explosia”, the fans erupted with screams and the crowd-surfing was off to a start. Mario Duplantier is a machine behind his drum kit, and his brother Joe provides the menacing vocal layer over the relentless rhythm as the song shifts through its numerous changes. Not stopping to pause, the band breaks into the unrelenting double kick drum blitzkrieg of “The Axe”, with its aggressive tremolo picking riff opening the song and shifting into a chunky half-time groove.
By the third song, “The Heaviest Matter in the Universe”, off of Gojira’s third studio album, From Mars to Sirius (2005), the crowd was in constant motion and the surfers came rushing forward on waves of outstretched hands. Within a short eight song set, Gojira spanned their 5 album discography, reaching all the way back to the debut album, with “Love” from Terra Incognita (2001), and picking some choice cuts from the entire catalog, including the title track from L’Enfant Sauvage (2012). I spoke to several fans before the show began and many of them came to see this band. This is my second Gojira concert and this band always puts on a great performance. My only disappointment is that they didn’t play a longer set.
Opening with “Tread Lightly” followed by the title track from their latest album, Once More ‘Round the Sun, Mastodon kicked off the show washed in vibrant colors and set against the psychedelic backdrop by Oakland-based artist, Skinner – the artist who created the album cover artwork for Once More ‘Round the Sun. The extensive set-list had a great mix of new songs and classic Mastodon tracks. Among my favorite songs from Once More ‘Round the Sun, aside from the two opening tunes, are the insanely catchy hook of “The Motherload,” the unstoppable momentum and dark tone of “Chimes At Midnight,” and the great guitar work and harmony vocals in “Ember City.” Other classic favorites included “Blasteroid” from 2011’s The Hunter, “Oblivion” off of Crack the Skye (2009), and “Blood and Thunder” from the 2004 album Leviathan.
Mastodon’s songwriting blurs the lines between genres and styles, and the mix of technical prowess and dirty grooves blends well with the shared duties on vocals between bassist Troy Sanders, drummer Brann Dailor, and guitarist Brent Hinds. The guitar duo of Hinds and Bill Kelliher offers a plethora of chunky riffs mixed with intricate and tasty shredding. Sanders and Dailor provide the rhythmic foundation and thick low-end that keeps everything together.
Overall this was an excellent triple bill, featuring outstanding performances from all three bands. If you have the opportunity to check any of these bands out on this tour or any tours to come, I highly recommend it – you won’t be disappointed.