Mastodon are like some kind of riddle. While the Atlanta, Georgia four-piece are one of the heaviest bands on the planet, they’re also one of the most hypnotically soothing. Yes, during their 80-minute set in New York tonight there are furious, planet-flattening explosions of noise, but there are also moments of utter calm and dreamy relaxation, a pulse that takes over the entirety of the sold-out, 3,000-capacity venue.
There’s a similar mesmerism in support act Gojira, though it’s anything but calm. Rather, the intense French metallers deliver a blistering barrage of pounding noise. Yet the dark, foreboding heaviness of To Sirius and the shape-shifting metal exploration of In The Forest aren’t one-dimensional – beyond the relentless attack of guitars are glimpses of a more spiritual world.
Those kind of nuances have been practically perfected by Mastodon in their 14-year career, both recorded and live. Tonight is no exception, and there are no half measures. They begin with the groggy, proggy swirl of Hearts Alive, which swells into a fierce behemoth of a crescendo. Such is the force of their music, the band need do little else other than just play their songs, and one by one they consume the cavernous, impersonal ex-techno club venue.
Capillarian Crest is a complex collision of noodling guitars and devastating riffs, Bladecatcher a capricious ebb and flow of intense fretwork and frenzied noise, while Siberian Divide soars with impressive vigour, its explosive energy also offering a kind of tranquillity through its crushing rhythms.
That odd, paradoxical duality really comes alive in the last third of their set. A dizzying rendition of Naked Burn, from 2004’s Leviathan, feeds into that same record’s opening track, Megalodon, both songs blending musical sophistication with a bludgeoning might before the lead-weight psychedelia of Oblivion sends the crowd crazy, bodies piling into and on top of bodies while all sing along at the top of their voices.
There are two new songs: Chimes At Midnight and High Road from new album Once More ’Round The Sun, before Bedazzled Fingernails and Aqua Dementia – which receives the loudest cheer tonight – bring it back to the more familiar.
But the best really is yet to come, because it’s set-closer The Sparrow that proves to be the highlight of the evening – its lilting, blissful strains shimmer with strength. It’s not the most extreme song of the night, but its absorbing, near-spirituality certainly makes it one of the most powerful.
Somehow, Mastodon are both the storm and the calm before it – a truly mystifying but magical live experience.