Mastodon | Red Fang | Russian Circles – 6th December 2017 – Northumbria Uni

Review by Neil Ainger

I hate to lean on an old cliche but I am reminded of the saying that ‘good things come in threes’. Not a saying worth putting any stock in, of course. For starters, there also exists the saying ‘bad luck comes in threes’ and for that matter, if we believe there to be any real meaning in sayings such as these, good things also ‘come to those who wait’ and ‘come in small packages’. On this particular evening, however, good things almost certainly came in threes when Mastodon rolled into town with two heavyweights in tow.

The significance of the occasion was not lost on the majority of those coming out to see one of heavy metals current big hitters and a very healthy number of people ensured they were on time to catch Russian Circles kick the night off early on.

I feel as though bands that play post-rock and post-rock metal are often handed support slots because they set the tone for the rest of the evening. A kind of slow-burning and easily digested introduction to proceedings.

To make such claims about Russian Circles, however, would be nothing short of an insult. Delicate, fragile and effortlessly intricate one moment, as they slowly build a precisely crafted atmosphere, and chaotic the next as they tear it all down to the ground with intense and explosive riffage. The instrumental trio from Chicago are worthy of so much more than their quick half an hour set on this evening.

Red Fang from Portland, Oregon are no strangers to opening for some heavy hitters. Serving as the support for Opeth and In Flames will teach you all you need about working some big tours I’m sure. It’s, therefore, no surprise that the stoner riffers are about as professional as you could ask for, rifling through track after track while never forgetting to engage the audience and have a little fun.

Red Fang are a welcome reminder to those amongst us attracted more closely to the gloom and the doom that metal can be fun, while not sacrificing any credibility. Charging through favourites such as ‘Hank is Dead’, ‘Blood Like Cream’, ‘Wires’ and ‘Crows in Swine’, the crowd were full to capacity and primed and ready for the closer ‘Prehistoric Dog’ which landed predictably well.

By the time Mastodon took the stage there was barely a space to fill, made only too apparent by the arduous task of battling one’s way to the bar or to the toilets. With their two most recent albums making the top 20 in the UK and the top 10 in the US, the shift towards more commercially friendly music in recent years has been notable.

In fact, Mastodon have shown a real skill for writing compact, hooky, dare I say pop songs. The setlist on this evening was understandably dominated by tracks from the latest record, ‘Emperor of Sand’, with ‘Sultans Curse’, ‘Show Yourself’, ‘Precious Stones’, ‘Steambreather,’ ‘Roots Remain,’ ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and ‘Andromeda’ all featuring. Opinion is likely divided, but I feel the new material blends effortlessly into the fabric of a live Mastodon experience. Some of it perhaps lack the punch of a ‘Colony of Birchmen’, which was met with nothing but a positive energy, the tech-metal trademark sound of the likes of ‘Megalodon’, which sent the pit a few paces in front of me in to overdrive, or the complexity of the 13 minute ‘The Last Baron’, the closing track to the bands progressive metal masterpiece ‘Crack the Skye’ and a somewhat odd but welcome choice to open the show.

Mastodon are a band that haven’t forgotten where they came from and while the albums ‘Remission’, ‘Leviathan’ and ‘Blood Mountain’ are certainly not represented in the way they once were, the tracks that do make the cut offer the perfect balance to both remind us of where they have come while celebrating where they are. By the time the band close the set with eternal favourite ‘Blood and Thunder’, the pit has had a decent workout for the evening.

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