Mastodon at Brixton Academy – live review

Mastodon and Russian Circles play Brixton Academy.

Mastodon at Brixton Academy

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Russian Circles’ intense, monolithic walls of instrumental post-rock – Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor sums them up pretty well later on tonight: “Russian Circles are a scary band. I think they’re haunted” – isn’t exactly getting the party started, but against a backdrop of dazzling lights, their music is certainly mesmerising.

This is the third time that Mastodon have headlined Brixton Academy and despite having reached a plateau, the fact that they can sell out on a snowy Sunday is testament to their solid staying power.

Their latest album Emperor Of Sand is certainly one of their proggier offerings, yet also topped the Critics’ Choice Album Of The Year list over at our sister magazine Metal Hammer. The Atlantean four-piece are one of the few bands to genuinely straddle that sweet spot between both genres, with their riff-loaded rock as crushingly heavy as their namesake, yet also gloriously and dizzyingly technical.

Troy Sanders: in rock star mode.

Troy Sanders: in rock star mode. (Image credit: FALK-HAGEN BERNSHAUSEN)

Tonight Mastodon play surrounded by columns of lights that burst and pop with imagery, varying from festive flashings of snow-like light drops to the bright, garish imagery that adorned their 2014 album Once More ’Round The Sun. There’s little audience interaction, aside from bassist Troy Sanders telling us that we are witnessing the last night of the tour, and that he thinks they saved the best for last. In fact, one niggle with Mastodon live is that they can seem like they are just going through the motions – but tonight they’re more engaged: Bill Kelliher swings his guitar over his shoulders for a solo, while Sanders is unexpectedly in rock star mode: throwing his head back, running across the stage and heaving his bass into the air.

The 17-song setlist plunges straight into the prog, opening with the 13-minute The Last Baron from Crack The Skye. It’s a bold move, but one that goes down well, and shows that Mastodon will never pander to the expected.

Mastodon’s sound is vastly varied, sweeping from the singalong melodic chorus of Ember City to the hefty crush of the closing Blood And Thunder, yet it’s also instantly recognisable – new songs like the bouncing melody of Show Yourself and the chugging groove of Andromeda slot in perfectly.

As is usually the case with Mastodon, there’s no encore, but Dailor comes out from behind his kit to deliver a closing speech and a final thank you to the road crew, and to the fans for making it here on this chilly December night. Mastodon may unapologetically do things their way, but they’re still full of gratitude to the fans who’ve got them here.

Hannah May Kilroy

Hannah May Kilroy has been writing about music professionally for over a decade, covering everything from extreme metal to country. She was deputy editor at Prog magazine for over five years, and previously worked on the editorial teams at Terrorizer and Kerrang!. She currently works as the production editor for The Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Guardian, Classic Rock and Metal Hammer.