SXSW Music Live: Mastodon

Brutally efficient as equally heavy

Ponder the mysteries of SXSW programming: Metallic notables Mastodon found themselves the penultimate act on a Friday night SXSW showcase at Empire otherwise dedicated to punk and alternative rock acts.

Three Mastodons: (l-r) Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher, and Brann Dailor after their SXSW set (Photo by Gary Miller)

Indeed, the first three bands (the Regrettes, Potty Mouth, Chastity Belt) featured female leaders, a point worth mentioning only because the feminine energy proved appropriate given that the driving force behind the new Mastodon album Emperor of Sand is the illness and suffering of band members’ mothers.

Of course, once the Atlanta foursome blasted off with Sand opener "Sultan’s Curse," any thematic unity dissipated in the face of the grinding riff and a three-way vocal trade-off. The band has rediscovered its inner headbanger on the new LP, indulging in more unabashedly metal fare onstage than it has in ages, including thrashy tempos, shredding guitar, and Brent Hinds’ return to extreme vocal growls.

New songs "Andromeda" and "Show Yourself," making their live debuts alongside "Sultan’s Curse," dialed up the heaviness while retaining melodic accessibility. Even "Black Tongue" from the group’s lightest album, The Hunter, became a real crusher in the hands of Mastodon 2017.

Unlike most prog-leaning acts, the band performed brutally efficient, knocking out nine songs in less that 40 minutes. It might have been more had bassist Troy Sanders not suddenly announced “This is it!” when Hinds starting losing his shit over a technical challenge.

That anger, justified or not, channeled perfectly into closing tune “Mother Puncher,” a slice of old-school Mastodon from its 2002 debut Remission, and a reminder that this band never lost its 200-ton huevos.

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Mastodon, SXSW, SXSW Music 2017, Emperor of Sand, Brent Hinds, Troy Sanders

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