Dethklok, Mastodon, High On Fire, and Converge at the Val Air Ballroom
Des Moines, Iowa, October 14, 2009
In anticipation for what looked to be a thoroughly brutal heavy metal show, my curiosity got the best of me as I considered just exactly what a Dethklok concert would look like. I got on You Tube and watched a short video of one of their performances a week prior to my show date and mused at how old the second guitarist looked. I received a reply on my blog, gently reminding me that image doesn’t trump substance and accurately pointing out that rock music isn’t necessarily a young man’s (or woman’s) game.
But for Dethklok, the fictional band featured on Cartoon Network’s animate series Metalocalypse, image is entirely the point. Regardless of Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small’s musical lineage and impressive credentials (he is a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston), the band is entirely housed in an imaginary realm that only comes to life through means of animation. To disregard the image of Dethklok is to destroy it in many ways, and believe me, to witness a Dethklok show in person is a bit like Toto drawing back the curtain to reveal the all-powerful Wizard.
To see this before hand brought an immediate sense of disappointment, but there would be no regrets to this package event. After all, the promoters had me at “High On Fire” and “Mastodon.”
Twenty-three years ago, Ozzy Osbourne took a young band from San Francisco on the road with him for the Ultimate Sin tour. That band, Metallica, was supporting its new release, Master Of Puppets, and the tour provided them with enough exposure that began a slue of gold and platinum albums and lifted them to their own headlining status within a few years.
There’s a sense of continuity between Metallica’s tour with Ozzy in 1986 and Metallica’s decision to have Mastodon open for them on their upcoming 2009 Death Magnetic tour. Ozzy felt that Metallica embodied the spirit of early Sabbath and cited that as the reason he tapped them as openers.
Surely, Metallica must feel similarly about Mastodon, particularly since the Atlanta quartet mirrors much of the elder statesmen’s sense of heavy complexity and uncompromising arrangements. There has to be a sense of torch-passing with this decision and, in many ways, Mastodon certainly does appear ready for bigger things, thanks in large part to their latest release Crack The Skye.
On the band’s fourth full-length (fifth if you count Call Of The Mastodon) Atlanta’s Mastodon makes an album that will finally test the patience of the alternative elite that has traditionally supported them. I’m more suspicious of these music-types than the indie rocker who openly disdains metal because at least he’s being honest about it.
Yes, I’m one of those who believe there’s a large contingency of hipsters that have stood by Mastodon on the sole reason that they needed to find a relatively underground metal band to align with just to prove that they’re open to all kinds of music.
Their affection towards Mastodon should end with Crack The Skye, an album that puts the notion of “concept album” to a point of ridiculousness while utilizing a famous producer (Brendan O’Brien) to help capture the mayhem and, quite possibly, tidy up the results to get it ready for mass consumption.
The Scion Rock Fest. What can I say? It was great. I was really amazed to see how many of the bands were from Atlanta. Of course I think the idea behind it was to “showcase” local talent and most likely to “save money” on airfare. Keep in mind that most of these bands, with the exception of 3 or 4, are fairly well known in the underground metal scene.
Another thing that struck me as odd would be that they called it a “rock fest.” Clearly a festival featuring bands like Mastodon and Skeletonwitch (MySpace) is anything but “rock.” I’m thinking “Metal Forced Up Your Ass With A Fork Scion Fest” would have been more apt. Then again, anyone at Toyota selling the idea of a free concert to boost the coolness factor of Scion might have to call it rock rather than metal. Is Scion metal? I think now it very well may be…sorta.
The venue was the perfect setting for this kind of event. It was large, gloomy, and had so many creepy vibes I was as gleeful as a little boy in a candy store. The Masquerade in Atlanta is an old paper mill that has been a music venue for some time, which made it a really cool place to witness such heavy and broootal tunes. The show got to a late start giving me time to wander the grounds and take some photos.
Friday night was a fun bonus, but the real festival started on Saturday. That’s when the place filled up with perfectly unkempt indie kids, all the vendors were in full effect, and they kept scruffs like me out of the VIP section.
The importance of the weather cannot be overstated. When it’s hot as balls like it had been for the previous two Fork Fests, it becomes hard to drink the Goose Island beer and revolting to get too close to other sweaty people. When it’s over 100 and humid as hell, you need an American-style light lager. In fact, you need a lot of them. And you have to wear shorts even if your legs are pasty.
But when it’s mid-70s and breezy, you can wear jeans if you want, you can drink good beer, and you can work your way through a thick crowd occasionally bumping into a scantily clad young person without immediately being covered in stank. You can even eat Chipotle. Why not?
For some time now heavy metal has needed an album that shakes the genre to its core. A reminder that, in order for it to remain relevant, it needs a few watershed bands to move things forward. And while there are certainly bands that help fit this description, the reality is that the majority of these releases remain speckled in the underground, avoiding detection by a record buying public that may have written off the genre, choosing instead to reminisce about pre-Black album Metallica, old Slayer, and buying Iron Maiden re-issues. I say this because I’m one of those people.
But I have hope.
It lies, at the moment, in the hands of Mastodon’s major label debut (third overall), Blood Mountain. The hope is that with the resources of a major their impact will be wider. Immediately after impact, the desire is that their influence will take hold so that other bands within the genre can feel the freedom to push their own creative envelope. The Lord, and Satan in this case, knows that metal as we know it today needs more bands like Mastodon who understand more about shredding than they know about Soundscan.