LIVE: Mastodon – Limelight, Belfast

m1 m3 m4 m6 m7 M11The exuberant, grinding filth-tones of the five-piece Krokodil kicked off proceedings at the Limelight on Thursday night.

Something of a super-group, Krokodil is the rhythm section from ‘SikTh’ (James Leach and Dan Foord), vocals from ‘Canaya’ (Simon Wright), and a three-headed guitar-beast courtesy of ‘The Gallows’ (Laurent Barnard), ‘Hexes’ (Daniel P. Carter) and ‘Cry Of Silence’ (Alessandro Venturella). Flexing through a tight set of vicious riffage and hooky, punk-infused choruses, Krokodil asserted their presence with a rattling fervour, at times shifting down a gear into swampy, widescreen guitars before ripping back into full-pelt action. Despite there being only a scattering of ‘Krokodil’ t-shirts amongst the faithful, many of those who made it early enough to catch them clearly appreciated their progressive, no-nonsense aural assault. No peeling flesh in sight with our dose of ‘Krokodil’ this evening but rather the palpable sense of a crowd left hungry for another lethal fix.

Seattle’s Big Business took the second spot of the evening, proving that numbers don’t always add up to more in terms of sound. The sometime three-piece tonight unleashed their low-end battery as a twosome: one growling bass guitar matched with flurries of delicate violence on the drums. Jared Warren’s bass grooves doubled as guitar each time he kicked out at his pedalboard, some kind of arcane dirtbox-magic serving to generate a deliciously distorted thickness (not unlike current indie-rock darlings ‘Royal Blood’). The ‘Big Business’ sound communicates space and density but also maintains a bouncing, fuzzy heaviness that belies their stripped-down construction. A treat of a night for skinsmen, Coady Willis was incredible as he blasted, fluttered and kicked beautifully complex, fill-heavy rhythms into the venue with seemingly preternatural energy – his performance alone was worth the price of admission to all but the most boneheaded of observers.

The now steaming sea of humanity in black that comprised the Mastodon following crackled with anticipation as their hirsute heroes took to the stage. The twelve-string intro to ‘Tread Lightly’ chimed in hypnotically, heralding the beginning of an eighteen song extravaganza. The first song quickly turned feral. The heavily tattooed figure of Brent Hinds snarling like a junkyard dog stage-left as he mauled sinewy riffage out of his guitar and peppered staccato single-note lines over the thick chugging of Bill Kelliher’s meaty Gibson Silverburst – together igniting the Limelight into a thrashing mass of hair and devil-horned metal salutes. Troy Sanders commanded centre-stage with cool authority, his pummelling bass acting like a pivot around which the blizzard of drums and guitars shamanically swirled. The three pronged vocal attack is more ‘Metallica’ than ‘Mayhem’ these days, though some interesting harmony and interplay complements their psychedelia-tinged, math-rock/metal cocktail with Brann Dailor’s astounding, henge-splintering drumming a continual source of wonder.

Much of the heavily compressed vocals and the meandering song structures of Mastodon’s earlier material has given way to a more conventional approach on their latest LP “Once More ‘Round the Sun’. This kind of stylistic transition is born of confidence in their own evolution and imbues the new material with a clearer sense of purpose. Hardcore fans of their early work might dismiss this change of direction as a sell out, but if so, there was certainly no evidence of it on Thursday night. The Belfast crowd offered the same rabidly enthusiastic reception to the radio-friendly sing-a-long chorus of ‘The Motherload’, the trippy intensity of ’Oblivion’ and the face-melting final song ‘Blood and Thunder’. Mastodon are clearly basking in rude health and have the unaffected swagger of a band at the top of their game – long may the striding behemoth forge on. Paul Evans, GiggingNI.com