Mastodon – Kvelertak – Mutoid Man: Live at UEA, Norwich

People so often complain that a band isn’t playing their town on a tour. Every announcement is met with requests to play Billy from Stoke’s bedroom – though that would be sweet – and never satiates the audience size. Spare a thought for the people of Norwich who have had to go for years without seeing the glory of Mastodon in their city. As such, tonight’s event is packed out from the moment doors open, and anticipation is at an extreme high.

Striding onstage bathed in a deep purple and with synth-led Classic Rock leading the way, Mutoid Man greets an audience who welcome them with open arms. They begin their set with a spirited run through of ‘Melt Your Mind’, and their intention becomes clear: to paraphrase a great man, “they are Mutoid Man, and they play rock and roll”. There’s a tremendous sense of fun to the set, but one that may be a touch too wacky for some.

After ‘Date with the Devil’, Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Old Man Gloom) emerges on stage wearing a plastic alien mask, so make of that what you will. You have to go with them to enjoy the fun that they are. Both Brodsky and bassist Nick Cageao trade middle fingers with one another and the audience, gleefully grinning throughout. It’s a brief set, but one that the vast majority of the audience is on side for, and frankly silly fun.

Things take a turn for the altogether more serious as the house lights dim again, and Kvelertak grace the stage. The Norwegian sextet begin with a double-barrelled blast of material from their latest album, Nattesferd (Roadrunner Records, Indie Recordings), and things become divided. A great number of the crowd find themselves unwittingly bobbing their heads along to the Black n’ Roll progenitors, but an equal number seem unimpressed as the turn taken towards stadium rock on the aforementioned album doesn’t fully gel with the spirit of the evening. There are nods thrown to Status Quo in this latter-day material, and Ivar Nikolaisen pulls tried and tested rock star poses. While it is an energetic spectacle, it doesn’t cast a spell over the Norfolk gig-goers.

Fortunately, there is an arsenal of content from their self-titled debut that sends the venue into a unanimous frenzy. The likes of ‘Fossegrim’ and ‘Liktorn’ sound colossal, and are able to give space for air guitar-led rocking out, as well as sonic misery in the Black Metal influenced portions. A disjointed set, but overall a more than satisfactory opening for the main event.

Few bands have a back catalogue as bulletproof as Atlantan legends, Mastodon. It would go some way as to explaining why the setlist is so varied, pulling from every annal of their illustrious career. Opening with the riff storm that is ‘Iron Tusk’ from 2004’s Leviathan (Relapse) the UEA is whipped up into a frenzied mass of bodies swirling in an endlessly dedicated mosh pit. Brann Dailor is arguably the best drummer working in Metal, and tonight his percussion sounds immaculate. Every snare hit is crystal clear and the rolling of the toms thunders through the gut. Troy Sanders pulls of a hugely impressive and pitch-perfect vocal performance, in the unique way only he can, all while playing his understated bass lines that anchor every song.

Something people don’t talk about enough when it comes to Mastodon is just how brilliant Bill Kelliher is. The man with the best facial hair in the game also provides harsh backing vocals that would go unnoticed by many, as well as being a legitimate guitar hero. Striding back and forth the stage and trading labyrinthine riffs with fellow guitarist, Brent Hinds, he relishes the fact that he gets to do this for a living. Raising his guitar high above his head after the climax of a terrifyingly loud rendition of ‘Mother Puncher, tonight is a victory for all, but the star is Bill.

The production is far beyond Mastodon’s usual ‘four men and some lights’. Behind them stand vertical screens that project various vivacious visuals, all of which are trippy masses of swirling colour, sucking the audience fully into the world of Prog Metal. As the setlist begins to lean more heavily on the aforementioned Leviathan, monsters begin to appear on the screens, attacking ships before sinking into the void. It’s worth your time to stand still, even for a second, just to take in the wondrous art they have brought with them. Also, steam canons during ‘Steambreather’? Obvious? Yes. Brilliant?  Of course.

As the hour begins to draw ever nearer to the dreaded curfew, which the band totally smash through, a very special guest takes the stage. Scott Kelly, member of Neurosis and legitimate legend, joins the quartet to batter through the songs he has appeared on from every album since 2003; ‘Aqua Dementia’, ‘Crystal Skull’, ‘Crack The Skye’, ‘Spectrelight’, ‘Diamond In The Witch House’ and ‘Scorpion Breath’. Now that is how you pull off an encore!

Kelly holds his mic with a vice grip, rotating and lumbering around the stand psyching himself up before each glorious scream bellows out into the blackness. He is a monolithically imposing figure, and in a short time is able to outshine every individual performer to have played tonight.

Finally, the five men come to ‘Blood And Thunder’. An almightily rapturous cheer greets this, and a singalong threatens to drown out the band’s actual playing. Far later than anyone expected, and with the road crew clearly more than ready to pack up, Mastodon finish what was a blindingly excellent set.

They are one of the true greats of the modern age, and we do not deserve them. All hail the Call of the Mastodon.

SAM SAVIGNY