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A few late-night observations about Mastodon, Opeth and Ghost

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  Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor recently told me he wanted the band’s new album, The Hunter, to be a Saturday night rock ‘n’ roll album.

Well, it worked on a Sunday, too.

The Atlanta metal quartet was at the Burton Cummings Theatre Sunday as part of the Heritage Hunter tour sandwiched between co-headliners Opeth and opening act Ghost.

The show was too late to make the deadline for the paper, but the Internet never closes so here are a few late-night observations.

 Ghost

Ghost is from Sweden, but has more in common with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The mysterious sextet specializes in Satanic-themed mid-tempo songs with a heavy theatrical element, with the theatrics and stage show sometimes more entertaining than the music.

Lead vocalist Papa Emeritus held the musical sermon dressed as an unholy bishop in a flowing robe complete with a mitre wearing black and white makeup, while the band members – Nameless Ghouls – were dressed as monks with black masks hiding their faces on a stage featuring three banners made up as stained-glass windows.

The half-hour set was highlighted by the dark Elizabeth and Satan Prayer, featuring eerie organ swells that sounded evil, but most of the music failed to leave much of an impression.

 Mastodon

When Mastodon last played town in 2009, they performed their entire prog epic Crack the Skye in order, which led to a predictable show.

This time the band performed most of their new album, but mixed things up and threw in some older material along the way.

The songs on The Hunter are the shortest they have ever written and the band offered up 17 songs in its 75 minute set. There was no between song banter or pandering to the crowd: it was about the music and nothing but.

Vocalist-bassist Troy Sanders was the most animated presence on stage, as guitarists Brent Hinds, who shares vocal duties, and Bill Kelliher didn’t do much moving around. Hard-hitting drummer Brann Dailor is the band’s engine and kept things moving with his inventive skills. He is one of the best drummers in the business and was always interesting to watch.

After opening with the new Black Tongue, Mastodon dug into its back catalog with Hand of Stone and Crystal Skull before a lengthy showcase of new material. Dry bone Valley featured Saunders, Hinds, and Dailor trading off vocals; Octopus Has No Friends and Blasteroid showed of their melodic side; and the speedy Spectrelight and Blood and Thunder, off the Leviathan album, had some thrash elements.

Fans of the band’s prog side were treated to Stargasm, The Hunter and Crack the Skye, which was one of the toughest guitar workout for Kelliher and Hinds (whom one friend noted looked like a dead ringer for the Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Hartnell) in a set filled with them.

Hockey did get a mention when Dailor took the microphone at the end of the set to thank the crowd for coming.

"I know you guys stole our hockey team, but we love you anyway," he said, as many in the crowd laughed.

 Opeth

After the mammoth roar of Mastodon, Opeth’s slow, mostly mellow set lacked the same immediacy and excitement until the end of the night.

The 70 minute nine-song set was high on technical skill, but short on memorable material. The quintet led by vocalist-guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt specialize in progressive arrangements with numerous tempo shifts and extended instrumental passages featuring harmonized guitar work, soaring solos and acoustic interludes, but often the songs tended to go nowhere. Things worked best when the band built up some tension and climaxed with an explosive release.

The majority of the set focused on the mellow clean sound displayed on the band’s latest album, Heritage, with the exception of the ‘70s-rock-inspired Slither, a tribute to Ronnie James Dio, and the galloping riffs of The Lines in My Hand, but Opeth got back to its early roots with the last two songs: the death-metal blast of Demon of the Fall and The Grand Conjuration, which featured Akerfeldt mixing clean vocals with an unearthly growl.

Between songs he was friendly and chatty, acknowledging some of the fans’ shout outs, talking about trying to find food in Winnipeg and noting his drummer’s Hellhammer t-shirt, which led to a story about an amusing advertisement he once saw about the post-Hellhammer band, Celtic Frost, which said, "Celtic Frost make Hellhammer sound like impotent wimps."

Later Hinds walked out on stage after being introduced as Akerfeldt’s son and noted, "Mastodon make Opeth sound like impotent wimps."

After seeing them back to back, I had to agree.

Rob.williams@freepress.mb.ca

Heritage Hunter Tour

May 6, 2012

Burton Cummings Theatre

Attendance: 1,030

HHH1/2 out of HHHHH

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