Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Mastodon and Converge at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Published in Blog. Tags: , , .

2006 was an amazing year for the night’s three bands: Priestess broke out of its Québécois-hard rock niche and found a welcoming fan base internationally; longtime hardcore mainstays Converge took their sound and expanded its audience based on the heels of their acclaimed album No Heroes, an album which found praise from the likes of Pitchfork Media, Revolver and Drowned in Sound; and in 2006 an underground band from Atlanta released an album that many thought would be metal’s Nevermind, Mastodon’s Blood Mountain. Though it didn’t capture the same level of success as Nirvana found with its breakthrough release, it still helped broaden the band’s reach, resulting in a #32 debut position on the Billboard 200, a Grammy nomination and countless mentions on critics’ year end lists. To say the least, the night would be a good one for hard music.

Priestess took the stage to open the all-ages show with its powerful brand of hard rock with songs such as “Lay Down,” “Talk to Her” and the set closer, “I Am the Night, Colour Me Black.” All but one of the band’s songs came from the band’s album Hello Master, which had previously garnered the band the honor of Montreal’s Heaviest Act by the Montreal Mirror. Priestess took a while to warm the audience but slowly gained the crowd’s attention with its classic metal look and sound: tight jeans, extended riffs and drum solo interlude all intact.

There were a few in attendance who knew the band’s songs and sang along, headbanged or pumped fists, but the majority of the crowd was inactive during the band’s half-hour set. As lead singer Mikey Heppner mentioned the bill’s other acts, it became apparent that most weren’t in attendance to see Priestess. After the band blazed with the closer “I Am the Night,” the wait for Converge came to an end and the crowd began rumbling itself into a frenzy for what was to come.

The stage unveiled Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou playing alone as the crowd focused itself into the center of the floor and began to boil. The band eventually joined Ballou on the stage and began slaughtering their instruments as vocalist Jacob Bannon delivered a set of throaty, blood-curdling growls. Predominately playing songs from No Heroes, Jane Doe and You Fail Me, the crowd stayed energetic as Bannon spun around the stage, whipping his arms and legs around his body throughout the entire set.

As the crowd adjusted to the ever-fanatical show it became apparent why Converge, a band with its roots in ‘80s hardcore, had a place in what most would consider a metal gig. Throughout the night the pit’s inhabitants ranged from latino chic-sters to long-haired metalheads to aging emo-kids, and there within lies the sensibility of the band’s presence; as fans outgrow groups such as My Chemical Romance or Taking Back Sunday the natural progression is to gravitate towards a harder music, which leads one to suggest that Converge has recently succeeded amongst modern punk and metal bands due to this fanbase in transition. And if it takes a band like Converge to get emo kids to stop listening to the mainstream drivel with which they have all too often become associated, then so be it.

As the set came to an abrupt end the crowd again grew dense with anticipation, this time for the show’s headlining act, Mastodon.

Fans boomed in time with the heavy guitars, voicing the band’s lyrics as best they could and began squeezing toward the stage, edging inches closer to the now-celebrities that they had been waiting the entire night to see. Mastodon played a select few tracks from non-Blood Mountain albums, but eventually raised the musicianship of the evening with its performance of tracks from the band’s highest selling album, Leviathan. That being said it was the performance of some of the group’s latest songs that saw the greatest feedback from the crowd. As “The Wolf is Loose” picked up a pit began taking shape, with heads shaking out of control and hundreds of people swaying in motion. Other memorable tracks performed include “Circle Cysquatch” and “Colony of Birchmen,” but none received any greater of an unexpected reaction than “Bladecatcher.”

The track which finds itself as the most experimental on Blood Mountain takes shape with multiple time changes and direction shifts throughout, and it almost appeared as though the crowd didn’t know how to react to the Patton-esque song. “Bladebatcher” begins with an obscenely fast paced guitar jaunt and slowly peels away its own layers to reveal a mid-tempo rock jam before again diverting to the outer limits of musical exploration. The song that best proves characteristic of the set, however, may be “This Mortal Soil.” Roughly five minutes long, the song provides a driving progressive hook and utilizes the vocals of both bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds. It has a brief introduction that reveals itself slowly, easing itself into the song rather than violently forcing itself on the listener. Therein lies the allure of Mastodon: one moment they play a track that could easily find itself in heavy rotation on modern rock radio, and the next they drive even their own fan base to cringe.

To the fans that insist on fist-pumping to each word of the song, to the fans who had seen Mastodon on MTV2 only to be taken back by Converge, and to the fans who beat their chests alongside the drummer, I say well done. Well done not simply because you have made sure that mainstream outlets have taken notice of these groups, but well done because now many more that had previously lived in the outskirts of pop music may be heard.

[This article first appeared on How Was The Show.]