Is synergy the new trend in metal? Arguable kings of the genre, Mastodon, have joined with Dethklok — the real-life version of the animated band from the Adult Swim show Metalocalypse — as co-headliners on a 34-city tour sponsored by the offbeat TV network.
Toss in earnest math-metal quartet Converge and intense stoner-metal band High On Fire, and the formidable lineup and sheer volume are enough to drown out any naysayers. Or are they? As one conflicted Lynyrd Skynyrd-hoodie clad teen predicted before the show, “It’s gonna be a bunch of Adult Swim kids getting their asses kicked.”
Not exactly. Saturday night’s event at the 4500-person-capacity Aragon in Chicago, two weeks into the mega-tour, was a gathering of metal fans of all stripes: Packs oflong-haired dudes in black hoodies and Metallica, Pantera,and Dethklok t-shirts mixed with tech multitaskers who continually checked their blackberries and iphones for incoming messages.
The typically shirtless Matt Pike and his band High On Fire came rolling out of the gates with walls of distortion. Near the end of their short set, the trio debuted a new song that boasted an unrelenting beat and droning breakdown that gave way to a lurching, yelped refrain. Sensing that the crowd didn’t know this one yet, Pike said, “Where are the fuckin’ women? I want you to sing this!” before closing with the doomy “Rumors Of War.”
If Pike had difficulty persuading fans to sing along, that was nothing compared to what Converge fans had to contend with — although frontman Jacob Bannon was considerably more polite about it, thanking the crowd after every song. Still, Bannon’s lyrics are notoriously difficult to decipher on record, and live sounded like a fierce pterodactyl in an unbreakable plastic bag.
That didn’t make him any less articulate, though.
He introduced “Reap What You Sow” as a “song aboutkarma,” and the ensuing onslaught was anything but straightforward; ahaunted marching beat gave way to a maddening solo, and was soaudaciously loud that it could never be mistaken for any other trackinspired by the metaphysical subject mater.
Bannon pranced about with a few moves borrowed from the Michael Stipe school ofdancing, getting most animated for the handful of tracks from the band’s upcoming album, Axe To Fall.
The thrashing, cacophonous “DarkHorse” is perhaps the heaviest song Converge has ever written. The buzzing”Worms Will Feed / Rats Will Feast” sounded so frenzied, it was as if theband felt in grave danger while performing it. These strong tracks bode well for the new record.
Atlanta’s Mastodon, meanwhile, continued to present their entire album Crack The Skye as straightforwardly as a concept album about a paraplegic on an astral projection journey will allow. The stars painted on the venue’s ceiling nicely complemented the astral theme — and the performance was so flawless that it was hard to find fault with the band’s now familiar setlist of material.
Mastodon played the 50-minute album without any interruptions or acknowledgment of the crowd, making the record seem like the score to the accompanying video that played on the giant LED screen behind them. The fiery “Quintessence,” for instance, took on a nicely barbed, stripped-down vibe, and was accompanied by an onscreen Rasputin who resembled uberproducer Rick Rubin.
The further Mastodon delved into their back catalog, though, the fresher the songs sounded. “Sleeping Giant,” off Blood Mountain, sliced through with perfectly shrill guitars, and proved versatile enough that everyone in the house could thrash along to it.
After their thundering encore, a meek “Thank you, Chicago,” from drummer Brann Dailor was the only thing resembling stage banter. But who needs witty quips when a group puts on such a perfect show?
Perhaps the most enthusiasm came for co-headliner Dethklok, as the crowd thrashed wildly to the TV show band’s set, which featured songs from the recently released Dethalbum II. In a clever twist, the musicians performed dark-lit, beneath a giant projection screen featuring original animation and music videos made specifically for the tour.
One video featured mascot Face Bones giving a behind-the-scenes look at the “sweet blowjobby metal” band and how they actually go to the bathroom while performing onstage. Fans watched, but didn’t really laugh. No matter — they loved the music.
In the end, the varied bill of heavy metal miscegenation didn’t get anyone beaten up — it just brought a lot of different people together for a good time.