“I remember doing some W.C. Fields impression when I was in second grade and the crowd went ‘YEAH!’” Red Fang vocalist and co-guitarist Bryan Giles confesses with a grin. “I thought ‘Ahhh I could be on stage and have people do that all the time!” Though the exact quote of the classic comedian escapes the wooly-maned guitarist of Red Fang, one particular adage of Fields pertains perfectly to the night’s proceedings: “Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite. Furthermore, always carry a small snake.” That could very well be the classiest classification of hard rock’s affinity for booze…
Tonight, the fans showed up famished for the bite of modern metal and thirsty for a high-proof tincture as the heavy triumvirate of Mastodon, the Dillinger Escape Plan, and Red Fang rumbled up to Boston’s House of Blues. The bill represented a good cross-section of the contemporary metal scene with each band finding a common fan base by staking different terrains.
The venue opened its doors to a rabid rush rarely seen for such an early show. By the time Red Fang took to the stage at 7, the floor was largely full. “Our shows have been getting better,” Giles nods through the cigarette smoke. “More people know us.”
Signed to Relapse upon the label’s recent relocation to Red Fang’s native Portland, Oregon, the band has enjoyed their biggest year yet, thanks in no small part to their new album Murder the Mountain. Like the soundtrack to a Flintstone’s demolition derby, the ten songs within bear the bong-barreling aesthetics of the Melvins with the fat stripped down to flex more muscle.
They inaugurated the night with MtM’s new single ‘Hank is Dead,’ a tarmac-peeling bruiser, which caught Giles playing the night’s lone slide moment along with a bent solo that sounded like a cheetah rending the flesh from a fresh kill. They visited several other cuts from the new album, including the standout ‘Wires,’ though they abstained from the rampant destruction that permeates the song’s music video (required viewing for anyone curious as to what they might do with a record label’s paycheck). “My gear’s falling apart already,” Giles bemoans. “Dillinger breaks their shit every night, but at least they have a guy on hand ready to fix it.”
They ran a quick gauntlet of songs from their debut and capped their set with their tried and true ‘Prehistoric Dog.’ “That’s the one everyone still wants to hear,” sighs Giles. But by the end of their set, the crowd assures they still want to hear more. For a band that’s only just started grow on the national radar, Red Fang’s poised to strike it big. “If there’s money at the end of this rainbow, first thing I’m buying is new organs,” says Giles with a happy smile before retreating to serve his liver some of W.C. Fields’s prescribed snakebite medicine.
The Dillinger Escape Plan took to the stage under flashing lights and blaring sirens, their fury like the Rapture at the zoo where only the carnivores are left behind to feed themselves. The floor can’t ground them as amps and monitors become jungle gyms, the stage can’t contain them as the crowd becomes a cooling pool, and even their own ranks become contentious, demonstrating mosh-worthy disregard to the likes of opening number ‘Farewell, Mona Lisa.’
Having churned out mangled nests of extreme jazz metal for over a decade now, their shows remain just as intense and cathartic as when I first saw them at the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival over a decade ago in support of Calculating Infinity. It might help that founding guitarist Ben Weinman remains the only survivor of the original line-up, but of the five rabid soldiers on stage he’s still the wildest, baiting the fans into a frenzy that culminated in a classic 1-2 blow of ‘Sunshine the Werewolf’ and ‘43% Burnt.’ As proof that time has failed to tame their music, the set’s calmest moment came only in the latter closer with its bubbling King Crimson-esque bridge.
Then it was time for the night’s main event. Backed by a looming visage of beastly psychedelia, the four men of Mastodon took their positions among a triptych of amps and a Cylon’s carcass of shiny drums. Having last toured by playing Crack the Skye in it’s entirety, there were a hefty batch of tunes the fans were hoping to hear, even without the new slew of tunes off The Hunter. But while Mastodon’s latest studio salvo comprised the biggest chunk of their set, the quartet not only grafted the new tunes to old some choice old-favorites, but reassured skeptics that Blood Mountain was not the highest peak they have yet to climb.
After tapping ‘Dry Bone Valley’ and lead single ‘Black Tongue’ for new blood, Mastodon burned through a flurry of deep-cuts including ‘Megaladon,’ ‘Capillarian Crest,’ and ‘Colony of Birchmen.’ The band revisited Crack the Skye only twice for short and sweet run-throughs of the title track and ‘Ghosts of Karelia.’ But if CtS was a strange vacation from a brutal pursuit, returning to earth has only emboldened their live pursuits. Drummer Brann Dailor’s never sounded so much like a frontman from behind his kit and Troy Sanders has finally found the real estate on stage to match the range of his vocal and bass lines.
Ever the stoic flanks to the rhythm section, guitarists Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds stamped out their riffs with comfortable authority, whether it be the frantic flow of ‘Aqua Dementia’ or the needling leads of ‘Circle of Cysquatch.’ Perhaps the most telling posture of Mastodon’s current state was the bridge triumphantly bellowed during ‘All the Heavy Lifting’: “We didn’t come this far just to turn around/We didn’t come this far just to run away.”
In giving The Hunter the live treatment, these boys are staying true to their path by charging forward. When they recall the material of their younger days, they do so guided by the weathered wisdom of their older selves. Their new material finds them looking back by moving forward, as heady a notion as anything on CtS and best evidenced by the last two songs of the evening.
After closing with ‘Blood and Thunder,’ a classic conspicuously absent from the last two tours, Mastodon re-congregated on stage for a curious encore of their most alien track to date, the neon hymn of ‘Creature Lives.’
Incited by Sanders’s bass drones, the rest of the band crept back on stage to be followed by the ranks of Dillinger Escape Plan and Red Fang for a grand old sing-along. By the last verse’s chant of “The swamp is right where I should be,” the metal comrades proved that as far as they’ve come on record, the stage is where their fans will find them. It was an oddly joyous and affirming conclusion to thunderous evening. As Bryan Giles simply stated before it all began, “If you hate awesome, it sucked.”