With The Dillinger Escape Plan & Red Fang
Mastodon - Live At The HMV Institute, Birmingham

The Birmingham Institute has recently undergone a transformation, re-launching itself under the HMV banner. The venue itself has a great feel, with ornate balconies flanking the decent sized dance floor. Most importantly, it seems to be a venue that may have been just slightly too small to house Mastodon. Mastodon in a relatively-intimate setting? When coupled with two exemplary support acts, tonight is a no-brainer.

Openers for the tour are Portland’s Red Fang, who have been making waves recently in the stoner rock underground with their latest album, ‘Murder the Mountains’. They’re an ideal support for Mastodon, coming from extreme hotbed Relapse Records where Mastodon first made their home. Their riff ‘n’ groove based style shares a similar heft with that of the headliners.

Red Fang don’t appear to enjoy as much recognition from the audience, save for a hundred or so faithfuls towards the front of the stage. But as the set goes on, more and more are drawn into their good-time heavy rock. With bespectacled bassist Aaron Beam leading them through the likes of ‘Malverde’ and ‘Wires’, by the time they’ve left the stage a sizable proportion of those present are halfway towards the merchandise table.

If Red Fang are a party fuelled by booze and weed, the Dillinger Escape Plan quickly crash it, eyes pulsating out of their sockets.

Rapid-fire blasts of aggression include ‘Sunshine the Werewolf’ meshed with the sleazier likes of ‘Milk Lizard’. Guitarist Ben Wienman covers every square foot of the stage, leaping off the top of speaker stacks whilst either attacking his guitar like it just made derogatory comments regarding his mother, and playing the sickeningly complex jazz-based guitar patterns behind his head. The git.

Their set climaxes with the still thrilling ‘43% Burnt’ and its rambunctious stab ‘n’ chug backbone is a worthy set-closer, leading to mass applause. Probably half down to the fantastic performance, the other half based on the knowledge that Mastodon are up next.

With the anticipation now at fever-pitch, the mere dimming of the lights and the intro of ‘Dry Bone Valley’ are all it takes for the crowd to explode into hysteria.

Having wowed us back in 2002 with the lead-heavy, head-spinning complexities of their debut ‘Remission’, their subsequent albums have seen Mastodon expand their sound to a dizzying degree of texture, technicality and elemental power, represented deftly via a masterful set list. The gig leans heavily upon their latest work, last year’s ‘The Hunter’, and these new tracks fit in perfectly amongst highlights from their career to date, such as ‘Crystal Skull’ and ‘Iron Tusk’.

Highlights are numerous, including straight up pure rock fury of ‘Spectrelight’ and the considered, slow-burning ‘Stargasm’. The chunky main riff to ‘Curl Of The Burl’ leads to a mass sing-along of arguably their catchiest three minutes to date, whilst the head-spinning lead break of ‘Colony of Birchmen’ shows how much love the band retain.

With main man Troy Sanders careening around the stage, bass often pointing at the heavens, Mastodon boast a fearsome stage presence. The four personalities mesh their musical skill with multiple, haunting vocal melodies, the glue holding their songs together.

Despite not uttering a single word to the audience all night, the crowd remains in the palms of their hands, and with the main set comes to a conclusion with the one-two knockout punch of both ‘March of the Fire Ants’ and ‘Blood and Thunder’.

The encore includes the strangely uplifting ‘Creature Lives’, members of both Red Fang and Dillinger flank Mastodon assisting with its huge choral sections – not that the crowd themselves aren’t just as capable. The house lights come up and the band members break their silence to thank the audience for their time and energy.

Tonight’s gig proves that Mastodon have picked up the commercial acclaim to go with their critical appreciation. It’s justification that progressive, complex music can still reach a wider audience. May the behemoth stride on.

Words by Duncan Wilkins
Photo by Gobinder Jhitta

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.


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