I went to go see Mastodon live last night on 02/12/2017 in Cardiff at the Student’s Union Great Hall.

It was a bit of an interesting gig, in that I didn’t really want to go due to a mixture of recent bereavement and family visiting that evening and anxiety over finding a strange new venue in an unfamiliar city on a Saturday night when all the drunks and junkies would be roaming the streets, during the busy Office Christmas Party season where even more rowdy people would be out trying to look crazy to have something to talk about at work the next few weeks, as well as having to drive on some roads that have caused me much problems already this month and which have got me so stressed out I’ve actually said aloud ‘the next person to beep me, I’m getting out of the car and telling them, that I’m memorizing their face and if they ever beep me again I’ll follow them home and burn down their house with them in it.’

So, driving in the dark on a terrible road, negative emotions, better things to do with visiting family all already had me thinking I should just stay home and not attend.  Then, when I looked at the setlist of previous gigs in the tour I noticed a lack of a lot of my favourite songs (no Blood & Thunder!) and a too-high percentage of the new album (9 whole songs!). I also, when I bought the tickets initially, had noticed that they’d been doing a six song encore with all the songs they’d ever recorded with guests spots by Neurosis’ Scott Kelly, live, with Scott himself guesting. That seemed cool but I noticed on the previous show when I checked the setlist before going to my own gig that it now said ‘last show with Scott for 2017’ so one of the reasons that influenced me to buy the ticket in the first place was gone.

Mastodon are also a very hit and miss live band. Watch any outdoors show of them on youtube and you can see cracks appear. Watch their early DVD appearances and you can see Brent Hinds really struggle with vocals (that semi-famous version of ‘Capilarian Crest’ from that Slayer tour DVD for example). And while there are also amazing live moments from Mastodon, when I was thinking of reasons not to go and being a big wimp about the city streets and dodgy roads, I forgot about that.

I made a compromise and decided to not wimp out and still go, so I took my visiting guests to Cardiff for a night out, we had a nice meal in a restaurant, they went for drinks and saw the city and its Christmas market and temporary Ferris Wheel and got some drinks while I slipped off to see Mastodon after the food.

The support acts were Russian Circles, an instrumental Post-Metal band who my brother likes but I’ve never checked out, and Red Fang, the fun stoner metal band who have a Baroness and Mastodon sheen to them but also write Queens Of The Stone Age type stuff at times. I made it to the gig timed in such a way as to only see the last two Red Fang songs (and that’s ok, I only have two Red Fang CDs and only like one of em anyway) and I missed Russian Circles altogether (sorry guys… when I lived in Manchester I always walked to the venue early, got in as doors opened and watched all the support acts, but this is a new city, coming in by road, and bla bla bla…).

I’ve seen Mastodon three times before. Twice when their newest album was Blood Mountain, once with Tool where they leaned on their proggier side and played the full ‘Hearts Alive’ (hooray) and once supporting Slayer where they leaned on their more Metal side. I also caught them a few tours later when their latest album was Once More ‘Round The Sun, where they leaned on their more commercial and accessible material. Each version was great. In the Tool show the sound was bad and the vocals almost silent, but otherwise cool. With Slayer was probably the best. The headline ‘Sun show was pretty great but came at a period when I’d sort’ve fallen away from the band and it was actually what pulled me back in. The only downside was some stupid Scottish jerk screamed so loudly directly into my earhole that I had a ringing in my ears for three and a half days solid and I thought I was going to have to go to the doctor’s over it.

I have to admit, when it comes to Mastodon, my favourite albums are the three album stretch from Leviathan (I have a vinyl copy on my wall as decoration) until Crack The Skye. In this period, when it was happening, they were the most important, beloved, can-do-no-wrong band in the world and everything about them was cool and perfect. The next three albums are good too, and pay off really well when you first get them, but don’t quite live up to those previous three really, when you really look at them, in the cold light of day after the excitement has faded. They’re great, but they aren’t important and generation defining and tied up in all sorts of friendship memories and youthful anything-could-happen-next wide eyed wonderment. A lot of my friend group always say ‘they should’ve broken up after Crack The Skye and would’ve had a perfect untarnished legacy.’ (I’m much, much more forgiving of the next three albums than any of them, but even I can’t deny much preferring the previous three.)

So anyway, that’s the background.. On to the show…

So they came on after soundcheck to a warm applause, and launched into the rather odd song choice for an opener of the Crack The Skye late-album deep track ‘The Last Baron,’ (which is awesome in and of itself, but always feels like the second half of the title track and the third part of a suite of it, the title track and ‘Ghost Of Karelia’ and feels sort of unexpected and naked on its own). It was great though. It was a rather big statement of intent of what you could expect from the evening though, the trippier spacier stuff was definitely moved to the forefront.

There was some tasteful lighting and the stage turned from red to green to flashing depending on the tempo or time signature or some hidden logic I was having to much fun to study.

Then came the recent single from the new album, ‘Sultan’s Curse,’ which I didn’t think I liked all that much until I found myself singing along. They played the Crack The Skye single ‘Divinations complete with its surf guitar influenced solo, and then new-album deep cut ‘Ancient Kingdom’ and the lighting and previously not-much-used seven large thin screens surrounding the band started showing running water.

From then on the show started to get really good and I was warmed up and the showmanship started to come out more, the crowd started singing along more, and the screens started showing mental-ass psychedelic visions of evil octopuses, burning horses, snow, hell-scapes, deserts and all sorts.

The previous setlists on this tour had had a full 9 songs from Emperor Of Sand, but they trimmed that down to a more manageable 7 songs for my show, adding in the hits ‘Colony Of Birchmen’ ‘Black Tongue’ and ‘Blood And Thunder’ to the set to balance it out. They also made the very nice decision to play crazy-ass Blood Mountain deep cut ‘Bladecatcher’ which I wasn’t expecting but gladly welcomed, air drumming along to all its twists and turns and teases.

There was an absence of a lot of their hits that night. No ‘Iron Tusk’ no ‘Capilarian Crest,’ no ‘March Of The Fire Ants,’ no ‘The Wolf Is Loose,’ no ‘Crystal Skull’ no ‘Curl Of The Burl’ and no ‘The Motherload.’ They certainly don’t always just play the same songs every tour that’s for sure!

They did a pretty great job without them though. When they initially chucked in the deep cut from ‘Round The Sun, ‘Emerald City’ I found myself thinking, “which one is that?” when they said the name in the introduction, but then quickly found myself singing the chorus loudly along with easily a thousand other people. I didn’t even know I loved that one, but apparently I do. Its never made it into any of my greatest hits playlists or friend recommendations before, but I guess it probably will in future.

They also played my favourite track off of Emperor Of Sand ‘Andromeda’ with its almost Remission-esque noisy barbaric riff. Some of the drums on tracks like ‘Steambreather’ and ‘Roots Remain’ were breathtaking. Brann Dailor is an absolute drum hero up there with Dany Carey and Neil Pert.

Now; Because Mastodon are such an important band to me, all their albums are major life events and are tied to specific periods in my memory forever. Leviathan was around my 16th birthday and was influential to my teenage band and one of the most exciting times I’ve ever had as a music fan (a lot of my early facebook photos are in a Leviathan shirt and I’ve got a vinyl copy on my wall, now and in my last three homes, as decoration). Blood Mountain was the big exciting release all my high school friends were talking about when I left town after high school and what I’d discuss with them when I got back in touch with them any time in the next few years. Crack The Skye was this amazing otherworldly transcendental masterpiece that defined much of my time when I moved to England. The Hunter was the soundtrack to when I worked in Blackpool while reading all the A Song Of Ice And Fire books and figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. Once More ‘Round The Sun always reminds me of walking my then girlfriend, now wife, to university in the snow and slipping and sliding along all the ice, and then waiting in the lecture halls I’d gotten to half an hour early for my own classes, just cranking out Mastodon, sitting in cold echoing halls bopping away to ‘Halloween’ and ‘Tread Lightly.’

Emperor Of Sand, however, reminds me of misery. I was listening to it heavily when we lost our first baby, and when I was working horrible soul destroying night shifts with an awful, passive aggressive, demanding and socially maladjusted manager in a horrific ungrateful job where you could work either 14 hours a day day shifts or 11 hours a night night shifts and still be harassed into coming in early so they’d pass inspections or going home every single damn day between 20 and 90 minutes late due to short staffing, and not be thanked for it, and have to come in on two hours notice, or on only five hours sleep, and work in awful dehydrating conditions and have the manager talk to you through the toilet door if you ever actually got the chance to actually go to the toilet and escape work for long enough to piss. That place broke so many labour laws and health and safety rules it was staggering and its a wonder the upper management weren’t all sacked, if not prosecute. But anyway… Nowadays when my life is so much happier and nicer and I’m in an awesome job that I love in a much better city in a much nicer home and everything is a lot better, listening to Emperor Of Sand just bums me out and reminds me of slaving away in such horrible conditions for such a dreadful uncaring company and their demanding, hateful, ungrateful clients and then coming home to bereavement and a lack of sleep.

Hearing those songs live with the cool video screens and all the joyous sing-alongs from the other fans sort of freed them from that association. I just got to listen to and enjoy them as songs, free from all the baggage. It was nice. Liberating.

Which is a good job, since so much of the setlist was from it. Going off Setlist FM, the breakdown was as follows: Emperor Of Sand -7 songs; Crack The Skye – 3 songs; Blood Mountain – 2 songs; Leviathan – 2 songs; Once More ’Round The Sun – 1 song; Remission – 1 song; The Hunter – 1 song.

Oh yeah, did I tell you they played bloody ‘Mother Puncher’ ?! SCORE! Its nice that even though they’re so late in their career they aren’t ignoring Remission (come to think of it, last time I saw them they very unexpectedly dropped ‘Ol Nessie’ into the middle of all the commercial stuff!). I hate fans who act all cool and say they only like Remission, sure, but it is a stunning monstrous album and I’d hate for it to be overlooked or forgotten. I’d love for them to drop a few more nuggets from it in nowadays. Nobody could argue with a bit of ‘Crusher Destroyer’ or ‘Where Strides The Behemoth’ nowadays, surely. Just slipped in nice and tidy among the proggier stuff to raise the energy levels and remind us of heavier times.

Speaking of ‘Mother Puncher’…. good God, the drums on that song! That and the breakdown in the middle of ‘Blood And Thunder’ have some of the most maddeningly-illogical yet crazily-satisfying drums ever.

Overall, I had a pretty great night and the band were great. A vastly different setlist than I’ve ever seen by ’em before, cool interesting visuals, a receptive audience, and I’ve not mentioned it yet but the sound was really clear and well balanced, the guitar solos were cool and Brent played them with a little bit of improvisation, and the vocals were really great. As I’ve said, I’ve went to Mastodon shows were you couldn’t even hear the vocals, I’ve seen Mastodon live footage online were the vocals weren’t so hot performance-wise, and I’ve seen ’em live before or recorded on their Brixton live video for example, with awesome vocals. Tonight was a good night for vocals, and indeed for crowd participation. The audience were dancing, singing, air drumming. I was sat behind the lighting/sound guys and they were dancing in unison at one stage. The whole vibe was very friendly and fun and like we were all in on the group secret.

I might have been skeptical and almost cancelled going to this show, but I’m glad I didn’t. I had a good time, I saw a good show and its given me a renewed appreciation for the new album and helped free it from bad memories.


Bullet For My Valentine – Live From Brixton: Chapter Two Blu Ray Review

Bullet-For-My-Valentine-Live-From-Brixton-Chapter-TwoLive From Brixton: Chapter Two is a 2017 crowd-funded live album from the Welsh Heavy Metal band Bullet For My Valentine. Its their second live album filmed at the venue, hence the title (as they had released one way back at the start of their career about a decade earlier). It is available in many formats and combinations but my review will concentrate on the single disc Blu Ray version.

The release captures the band live in London in December 2016, towards the end of their touring cycle for the underated Venom album (my favourite BFMV album personally in case you were wondering) and consists of two full concerts. Firstly there is a normal set in support of the Venom album with a nice mix of material throughout their career and an extra focus on Venom. The second concert is a special performance where the band play their popular debut album The Poison in its entirety (with an encore of four extra songs to close out the evening). Its great that they filmed both of these because either one on their own would make a stunning live album and its great not to have to sacrifice one for the existence of the other. There are a few tracks in both sets but overall they are very different and the crossover is minimal. The track listing is as follows:

Night One:

1. V (Intro) 2. No Way Out. 3. Skin. 4. Your Betrayal. 5. Scream, Aim, Fire. 6. Venom. 7. Four Words To Choke Upon. 8. You Want A Battle? Here’s A War. 9. The Last Fight. 10. Hears Burst Into Fire. 11. Alone. 12. Worthless. 13. Hand Of Blood. 14. Don’t Need You. 15. Tears Don’t Fall. 16. Waking The Demon.

Night Two:

1. Intro. 2. Her Voice Resides. 3. Four Words (To Choke Upon) 4. Tears Don’t Fall. 5. Suffocating Under Words Of Sorrow (What Can I Do) 6. Hit The Floor. 7. All These Things I Hate (Revolve Around Me) 8. Room 409. 9. The Poison. 10. Ten Years Today 11. Cries In Vain 12. Spit You Out 13. The End. 14. V (Intro) 15. No Way Out. 16. Your Betrayal. 17. Waking The Demon. 18. Don’t Need You.

Already, value for money is excellent with two entire full-length headline concerts in one package adding up to a 161-minute runtime. And that’s primarily made up of songs by the way, not wasted on indulgent piano solos or annoying onstage rants. But hey, that’s all well and good from a marketing perspective. How good are the concerts themselves? How good is the concert film? How good is the sound of this live album? These are what really matter at the end of the day. The answer to all of which is ‘utterly fantastic.’

I was at the Manchester set from this tour so saw how good the performance was first hand (and am smug enough to report I caught Mike’s drumstick at the end!). Just like my experiences in person in the north of England, down in London things were equally electric by the look of it. The band just seem so into it; Guitarist Padge and drummer Michael Thomas always seem like they are having such fun. The childlike glee on their faces when they nail a difficult part or lay into a crunchy groove just comes across perfectly. Its great to see a band who are so enthusiastic and entertained by what they do. (Which is almost odd considering the reputation they have among Metal elitists who call this cynical corporate kiddie music. …Oh well, their loss!). Matt Tuck can deliver that clean singing really well live too, that is not easy to pull off! Do you know the best thing too? It all sounds so much rawer, heavier and more energetic live than on record. Maybe its their overly slick production jobs on some of those albums that put fans of heavier music off, but live this stuff sounds ferocious. If you doubt me, listen to ‘Scream, Aim, Fire’ live. Its like a fucking Testament song! (Hardly cynical kiddie music!).

First thing outside of the band’s performance to discuss is how this looks. The sheer amount and variety of lasers and lights is ridiculous. Its like a competition to see how elaborate a lightshow can get. During the intro to night two you’d almost be forgiven for thinking you accidentally put on a Pink Floyd concert…that’s how much effort they put into the light show! There’s also a big BMFV backdrop (which the camera personnel use to great effect for framing). There’s pyro. The band are all sharply dressed in suave gentlemen’s suits. Visually its just stunning. Captured in High Definition it looks wonderful. The camera work is great. A real beautiful looking concert film. The editing is tasteful and well paced too. Its not overly stylized or choppy million-shots-a-minute stuff so you can’t even concentrate on the musicians playing their instruments. No; Its really well filmed and put together and a delight to watch.

The sound and mix can be tricky for live releases. Luckily this one strikes the perfect balance of feeling live, and sounding big and polished. The drums are nice and loud in the mix and the timbre of the toms and kicks on this recording really bring out the live vibe. The balance between the three string instruments is pretty perfect with no one either sounding too loud or inaudiable either. As I said it all comes across as a lot more savage than the album versions of the tracks.

In terms of specs, there’s the choice of either 5.1 DTS HD Master audio, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital stereo. Its region code 0. It comes with a booklet filled with pictures as well as a set of liner notes from singer/guitarist Matt Tuck and a set from guitarist Padge.

Overall; this a very good value for money, absolutely beautiful-looking and excellent-sounding concert film capturing two absolutely blistering and enthusiastic, fun performances. It looks an absolute treat and it sounds so much more raw and human than their studio output. Anyone who’s on the fence about this band should seriously check this release out as I can imagine it converting a lot of people. Anyone who is already a fan is going to absolutely fucking love it. Highly, highly recommended.