CD Review: “Cold Dark Place” by Mastodon

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The Cold Dark Place EP bears the Mastodon moniker and the members of Mastodon are performing the songs, but this is only technically a “Mastodon” album. Fans still high on Emperor of Sand should temper their expectations. That’s not to say this is a bad album, but it’s markedly distinct in tone and temperament from what one might expect from the band.

The EP was originally conceived as a Brent Hinds solo work. Hinds created the concept behind the album, wrote all of the songs, and collaborated with artist Richey Beckett on the album art. The tracks were recorded during the Once More ‘Round the Sun and Emperor of Sand sessions, but sound little like either album. This is Brent Hinds featuring Mastodon moreso than it’s Mastodon.

Cold Dark Place was inspired by a difficult break up and it strives for a slow, melancholy atmosphere, but Hinds is too much a southern boy to resist twangy solos and funky breakdowns. It makes for some odd and occasionally schizophrenic songs. The single, “Toe to Toes” combines an Allen Toussaint/”Southern Nights”-esque acoustic intro with a chorus largely lifted from the Ozzy Osbourne/Lita Ford duet, “Close My Eyes Forever.” Streaks and flashes of classic and southern rock abound throughout the EP. These four tracks are admittedly closer to Mastodon’s body of work than it is to other Hinds’ projects like West End Motel or Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, but there’s no doubt that Hinds is the dominate creative influence.

Hinds has created a strange and interesting bird with this EP. It’s well worth checking out, but it lives more as a footnote than a follow up. Cold Dark Place will definitely draw interest from diehard fans, but there’s little meat for casual Mastodon listeners.

Mastodon’s Brent Hinds Proposes at Iron City

Although based out of Atlanta, Mastodon’s concert at Birmingham’s Iron City was a homecoming celebration. Vocalist/lead guitarist Brent Hinds is a Birmingham native and his family was in attendance. His mother spent the show hopping up and down, leaning against the balcony and his 90-year-old grandmother sat in a chair on stage and danced with members of both Mastodon and Eagles of Death Metal during the show.

Fans turned out in full force and filled with enthusiasm. The audience packed in tight such that making your way from one side of the venue to the other was a harrowing journey. The crowd met nearly every song with dancing, fist pumping, sing-alongs and the occasional mosh pit.

“You guys are really incredible,” said EODM front man Jesse Hughes. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a reception like this.” Both EODM and Mastodon echoed this sentiment several times during the evening. Of course it’s the sort of canned response that most bands spout at every show, but it felt sincere given the high capacity, high-energy audience.

After Russian Circles warmed up the crowd with a quick opening set, Hinds joined EODM on stage for its first few songs after introducing his grandmother. The band’s feel-good dance rock only contributed to the festive vibes of the night. Hughes strutted around the stage like a redneck Mick Jagger and rocked out with a cover of Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream” amid the regular set list. Josh Homme rarely tours with the band and this night, unfortunately, was no different. But the touring band put on an excellent performance and Homme’s absence was barely noticed.

Mastodon’s stage show was no-frills/all business, which is fairly typical for the band. Four vertical monitors were positioned around the back of the stage and displayed dissected, colorful, psychedelic images as the band played. With the exception of the arrays of colored spotlights, the stage lights were kept low to emphasize the colored, whirling patterns. The only other form of theatrics was Hinds’ dancing granny.

Mastodon opened with “Sultan’s Curse” and proceeded to play nearly every track off the new album, Emperor of Sand, during the course of the night. The set was still filled with plenty of fan favorites like “Oblivion” and “Blood and Thunder,” but the new songs received as many whoops and cheers as the established hits. Crowd surfers were a frequent occurrence during Mastodon’s performance but mosh pits seldom appeared, spontaneously breaking out during heavier numbers like “Blood and Thunder” only to quickly peter out by the next song.

“You want an encore?” Hinds asked at the end of the night. The audience was still in high spirits and called for more. “Well how about this for an encore?” Hinds stepped backstage, reached for his girlfriend, Raisa Moreno, and led her onstage. He knelt and proposed to her. It was a bigger encore than the audience could’ve anticipated, a one-of-a-kind show. Hinds’ mom shouted from the balcony while her son and new daughter-in-law embraced. The band didn’t try to follow that with another song.

The concert was an intimate experience shared with fans. It was the sort of show that fans talk about for years. “Were you there the night Mastodon’s guitarist had his grandma dance onstage and then proposed to his girlfriend?” It was a treat to hear the band play the new songs and it’s definitely worth catching this bill on tour, but the remaining tour dates won’t compare to seeing the Iron City show.