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.

CD Review: “Emperor of Sand” by Mastodon

Emperor of Sand is a chrysalis of an album. Like Crack the Skye before it, it’s a harbinger of a new sound. Not that Mastodon ever really stops tinkering with its sound, but the band’s seventh album gives every indication that it’s ready to shed the last of its metal cocoon and fully emerge as a psychedelic, hard rock band. But there’s still plenty of metal to shed.

Like many Mastodon albums, Emperor of Sand is a concept album. It tells the story of a man condemned by a sultan to die in the desert, which is an allegory for facing cancer and the emotions one deals with when learning he or she is going to die. The desert imagery coupled with the inevitability of death is a little reminiscent of “Ozymandias” if the old king knew what was coming.

Sonically, the album follows the trend toward hard rock established on The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun, but some of the softer dalliances are jarring. The single “Show Yourself” has an unusually radio friendly pop aesthetic that may put off longtime fans. It lacks the proggy layers of a typical Mastodon song and the absence of hard edges makes the track feel flat at first blush. But to its credit, “Show Yourself” is an incurable ear worm. Lines like, “You’re not safe as far as I can tell, and I can tell,” burrow deep. It’s the song you’ll catch yourself humming days later. However, “Show Yourself” is something of an outlier. There are moments, flashes, in songs like “Precious Stones” and “Steambreather” that reflect a similar commercial gleam, but as a whole, there’s not another song like “Show Yourself” on Emperor of Sand.

Mirroring the journey from denial to acceptance, the songs get heavier and angrier making for some of the heaviest songs Mastodon has produced in the last eight years. Brann Dailor’s clean vocals dominate the early half of the album, but increasingly give way to Troy Sanders’ growls. Sanders’ harsher vocal are further anchored by guest appearances from Neurosis’ Scott Kelly and Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp on the final tracks.

Emperor of Sand hits a sweet spot mid-way through with a trilogy of songs (“Word to the Wise,” “Ancient Kingdom” and “Clandestiny”) that hit an epic pitch, granting a sense of grandeur in the face of a feeble and fearful passing. It’s a sad album and an angry one. One that refuses to go peacefully and fights it out to the end. Something familiar is fading out on this album, but something new and (hopefully) interesting will follow.

Mastodon is currently on tour and you can catch them with Russian Circles and Eagles of Death Metal in Birmingham, AL on April 28th at Iron City. You can find tickets here and a copy of the new album comes with every pair of tickets purchased online.

 

Live Review: Pixies and John Grant at Birmingham’s Iron City May 6

Wednesday is not generally prime time for concert attendance, but it was a busy night in Birmingham, Ala. The Alabama Theater was hosting Hozier and, a few blocks south, the legendary proto-grunge, proto-alt-rock, post-punk Pixies were playing at Iron City with former Czars front man John Grant opening. The sidewalks downtown were packed with pedestrians and parking attendants. Cars lined every street for blocks surrounding the venues. These were people that had to get up and go to work tomorrow, young professionals and a surprising number of older fans, silver-haired and well dressed. Each one still hoping to grow up to be…be a debaser.

John Grant’s solo work lacks some of the waltzing smokiness of the Czars, indulging in pop experiments and occasionally off-kilter subject matter, but there are still strong similarities between the two. Grant shot through a quick 30-minute set with just a bassist and a second keyboardist to back him. He hit most of his highlights, like “I Hate This Town” and “Sigourney Weaver,” and engaged the audience with amicable anecdotes. Fans continued to file in and fill up Iron City as Grant wrapped up his set.

The Pixies’ stage show is deceptively simple, just a couple of smoke machines and a lighting rig. The smoke fills the stage, providing a hazy, white canvas for the colored lights. However, the lights are highly choreographed to the set, flashing and changing colors violently synchronized to the Pixies’ loud, quiet, loud aesthetic. Unlike John Grant, Black Francis didn’t bother with any chitchat or crowd work. The band launched directly into the set and played feverishly through each song.

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The band front-loaded the set with favorites like “Wave of Mutilation,” and “Where is My Mind?” while peppering in tracks from last year’s Indie Cindy throughout the middle before switching predominately back to the tried and true for the finale. But the Pixies didn’t lean too heavily on their shop worn classics. The band experimented with some of their hits; halfway through “Nimrod’s Son,” the song dramatically changed tone and tempo to the point that it almost felt like the band was playing some strange medley until it started piecing the song back together again.

The entire band was well oiled, with no awkward, on-stage whisper conferences. The members moved, seemingly instinctively, from one song to the next with no breaks in-between. Guitarist Joey Santiago, in particular, is a criminally underrated performer. While the show may have been light on gimmicks, Santiago always goes big on his “Vamos” solo. He tossed his gold-top Les Paul from hand to hand and played the guitar backward with the strings facing his chest while using a talk box.

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Some fans may have been apprehensive about shelling out the money to see the Pixies in the absence of bassist Kim Deal, and she has certainly left a large pair of shoes to fill. But Paz Lenchantin fills those shoes admirably. Lenchantin is a seasoned bassist with the experience of playing in the super groups A Perfect Circle and Zwan. She nailed all of Deal’s vocals. Lenchantin stuck strictly to the bass, sadly keeping her violin in its case during the set. It would have been nice to see her inject some of her own musicality into the set, but Pixies purists were more than satisfied.

At the end of the night, the audience screamed itself hoarse for an encore, and for a moment it felt like the show was really over. But the sheer volume and tenacity of the crowd brought the band back onstage for a couple of more songs with the house lights still up. It was an amazing performance. The Pixies may be nearly 30 years old now, but the band sounds like it’s still in its prime.

Gallery – The Pixies, May 6

Older and Louder: Slayer at Birmingham’s Iron City April 24

Review by David Feltman, Photo Courtesy of Andrew Stuart

Being the most controversial and notorious member of the Big Four, Slayer shows have developed a reputation for violence and crazy fans. But Slayer is also the most battle worn of the Big Four, having been whittled down to just two of its original members over the course of its 30-something year career. So the announcement that Slayer was playing a fairly classy venue like Iron City and charging $53 a pop couldn’t help but raise the eyebrows of local metal fans. That sounds more like a Metallica show. Has Slayer mellowed out in their old age?

Iron City is a solid, medium-sized venue, but it’s not equipped to handle walls of amplifiers and big pyrotechnics. And while it has hosted some of the heaviest metal acts, it’s still a nice enough venue that old gimmicks like the raining blood would be off limits. What really made the billing for this show interesting, especially in the absence of any flashy stage show stunts, was the lack of an opening act. No blood, no explosions, no other bands, just Slayer.

So back to the question, “has Slayer mellowed out in there old age?” The answer is no. The audience had been milling around, drinking beer, buzzing with amicable chatter. But the very moment Slayer started up with “World Painted Blood,” bodies started flying like a bomb went off. Male and female alike, fans started throwing themselves into the pit, slamming, swinging swarming. Anyone that picked a spot anywhere near the stage got sucked into the vortex.

The band played for two hours straight, systematically working through every song a fan could hope to hear, “War Ensemble,” “Angel of Death,” “Dead Skin Mask,” and “Raining Blood.” In fact, the set list was so thorough that at the end of the show none of the audience members could think of a song to scream out to call for an encore. They still, of course, chanted “Slayer!”

The simplicity of the performance made it feel all the more raw. There was nothing to detract attention away from Tom Araya and Kerry King except for the overenthusiastic fans pounding away in the pit. Slayer felt as aggressive and abrasive as ever, but it would be a lie to say that guitarist Jeff Hanneman’s absence wasn’t felt. The older and diminished band is missing some of the weight it used to pack behind its sonic punch. Araya and King are holding the center, but their grip feels like it might be starting to slip.

Slayer is a stalwart metal band that has been around for a very long time, but its continued longevity may not be long lived. Every good metal fan should make the pilgrimage to see Slayer and tempt fate in the pit at least once, but if this is a pilgrimage you’ve yet to make, you should make it now. Araya and Kerry have staid heavy all the way into their 50s, but it’s hard to imagine seeing them perform at this level in their 60s.

Live Review: Amon Amarth, Sabaton, Skeletonwitch at Iron City Oct. 26

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Review and photos by David Feltman

Presumably in a bid to win “World’s Longest Tour,” Amon Amarth actually began The Deceiver of the Gods tour in Europe back in July 2013 and it reached the US in January this year. In fact, Target Audience covered the tour when it came through Atlanta this past January with Enslaved. But Vikings, real Vikings, never stop. Now over a year in, and with a few changes to the supporting lineup, these Swedes are still pillaging the American countryside. Perhaps they’re still angry about that jerk Columbus stealing all the credit from Leif Eriksson.

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Skeletonwitch has been opening for Amon Amarth at every leg of its North American tour. And even now, with lead singer Chance Garnette absent due to unknown personal/medical reasons, the band is still forging onward as an instrumental group. True to form, Iron City, located in Birmingham, Ala., started the show exactly at 7:30 pm. Skeletonwitch started its set with people still filing into the venue and had packed it in 30 minutes later. This band is a pack of unflagging road warriors and it was a shame they were allotted such a small section of the show time. Luckily, Skeletonwitch never stops touring, so there will undoubtedly be future opportunities to catch its full show.

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The real star of the night was Sabaton, the newest addition to the tour. The Swedish power metal band’s penchant for history lessons and songs about epic battles made them a natural fit on the bill. Lead singer Joakim Broden even trotted out a song about Vikings so they could “fit in.” Though relatively unknown, Sabaton deserves to be a metal household name. The band had an amazing amount of energy that the audience gladly reciprocated, creating a cycle of good will between the two. The crowd matched every chant, clap and jump with thunderous enthusiasm.

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“We play 150 concerts around the world every year and it’s rare, very, very rare that we get such a welcome. Thank you,” said Broden, taken aback by the positive response.

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For the finale, the charismatic Broden pulled a kid in an Iron Maiden shirt and a leather biker cut, not older than 8-years-old, up on stage with the band. The kid posed and mugged throughout the last song, throwing up devil horns. Guitarists Chris Rorland and Thobbe Englund took turns letting him play guitar. As a veteran concert attendee, I can’t recall an opening act ever getting a call for an encore, or at least one as loud and sincere as the one Sabaton received. But, as a supporting act, the band was unable to comply because it was time for Amon Amarth.

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Amon Amarth filled the stage with smoke and epileptic tier colored strobe lights. The combination of smoke, flashing lights and large, long-haired men violently head banging occasionally reduced the visibility of the stage to brightly colored blurs and smudges. The visual assault subsided between songs while lead singer Johan Hegg joked with the audience and drank beer from a ram’s horn attached to his belt.

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The audience was properly warmed up from the Sabaton set and was eager to eat up as much metal as Amon Amarth was willing to dish out. The audience appeared to double in size as Iron City’s central floor was filled with leaping, crowd surfing vigor. Metal fans pumped their fists for the entire set like they were working shake weights.

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This is a great tour and Amon Amarth has definitely offered its fans plenty of chances to see them. But with the must-see-live Sabaton in the lineup, there has never been a better time to catch this show.

Live Review: Primus at Iron City on May 12

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Les Claypool of Primus May 12. Photo by David Feltman

Primus at Iron City

Review by David Feltman

 

Catching one of your favorite bands on tour is always a treat, but catching one of its first performances on that tour is even better. A band, understandably, doesn’t have the same energy on the first couple of shows as they do 10 shows deep into a tour schedule. Luckily, Birmingham’s Iron City was the second stop for Primus after an opening set of shows in Las Vegas.

 

Expectations were high for the sold out show. Black Label Society sold out the same venue earlier in the month, but Primus brought out a fire hazard tier of “sold out.” The audience filled every available space upstairs and down. Just traversing one side of the venue to the other was quite literally a 10-minute ordeal of squeezing, pushing and apologizing. Fans pressed along the front of the stage barrier yelled out “Primus sucks,” in good-natured anticipation, but any heckling ceased when the lights went out and Les Claypool took the stage.

 

In the absence of any opening acts, Primus was afforded the luxury of being able to do whatever it wanted with its set. Claypool bantered at length with the crowd and the band experimented with its songs. Working through 30-plus years worth of hits, the band played new tracks like “Lee Van Cleef” and classics like “Jerry was a Race Car Driver.” The songs were all familiar but uniquely presented, leaving fans uncertain of what shape and direction their favorite songs might take.

 

Primus managed to comfortably fit a massive video screen and two large inflatable astronauts onto the modestly sized stage, giving a psychedelic visual flair to the head-trip of a performance. The band played for two-and-a-half hours with a short “Popeye” cartoon-filled intermission about a third of the way through. The performance was loose and natural. The veteran band handled the one-man show with ease, keeping the crowd engrossed. The audience was a steaming, sweaty, pulsating mosaic of metal head moshers, mohawked punks, doped up hippies sporting glow-in-the-dark bracelets, fist-pumping frat boys in Grateful Dead shirts and grey-haired geezers with ZZ Top beards.

 

For the encore, Claypool came out and playfully thumped out a couple of bars of “Sweet Home Alabama” only to be jeered. “Ok, ok,” laughed Claypool, “absolutely no pandering to the Alabama crowd.” He then started into “Sweet Home Alabama” again, amid more boos, before launching into “My Name is Mud” and “Space Farm” to close. The entire show was defined by light-hearted fun and a lot of good energy. While not every stop on this tour will be sans-opening act, any bill featuring Primus will insure a good time.

 

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The Revolver Golden Gods Tour opens with impressively heavy bill in Iron City

Zakk Wylde Black Label Society at Iron City Bham. Photo by Shawn Evans for SkullsNBones.com. Used with permission

Zakk Wylde Black Label Society at Iron City Bham. Photo by Shawn Evans for SkullsNBones.com. Photo used with permission

Visit SkullsNBones.com for full concert photo gallery by Shawn Evans!

**Also Metal Mark McPheeters interview with Jimmy Bower of Down

 

The Revolver Golden Gods Tour opens with impressively heavy bill in Iron City

 

Review by David Feltman

 

BIRMINGHAM–The Revolver Golden Gods Tour boasts an impressively heavy bill with enough variety to intrigue most metal fans. And the sold out show certainly attracted a broad spectrum of fans to Iron City on May 2nd. Kids in makeup and dyed hair stood alongside grizzled, leather-clad bikers in a line that wrapped around the block.

 

The doors opened at 7:30 pm, and by 7:50 pm, as people were still funneling into the venue, Butcher Babies had already played and left the stage. The quick show was a disappointment for those interested in enjoying what is normally a visceral performance. While the band’s thrashy nu-metal (or “neo thrash”) tendencies aren’t particularly appealing, the band’s energy on stage is irresistible. Butcher Babies exploits a simple but effective gimmick, having its two attractive, half-naked and gore-covered vocalists jump around the stage and scream their heads off. Heidi Shepherd and Carla Harvey are magnetic personalities in spite of the trashy concept, and their dynamic vocals are the bedrock of the band. The duo dominated the little space allotted them on stage amid the covered Black Label gear, but most concertgoers had only just glimpsed them before the band departed the stage.

 

The setup time for Devil You Know took longer than Butcher Babies entire set. The newly formed super group, comprised of members from Killswitch Engage, Fear Factory and All Shall Perish, is probably the least known member on the bill. But the band’s pedigree is certainly enough of a draw. Sadly, Devil You Know’s brand of metalcore sounded as dated and derivative as the Butcher Babies neo thrash, but the band lacked the spectacle or the enthusiasm on stage to make the lackluster performance forgivable. Howard Jones did little more to stir the ambivalent crowd than walk in circles and clap his hand in the air a couple of times. The performance got progressively worse with off key harmonies and dull riffs, but was mercifully brief.

 

Phil Anselmo, front man of Down, preaches to the crowd opening night in Birmigham May 2. Photo by Shawn Evans for SkullsNBones.com

Phil Anselmo, front man of Down, preaches to the crowd opening night in Birmigham May 2. Photo by Shawn Evans for SkullsNBones.com. Used with permission

 

Down came next and, ever the consummate front man, Phil Anselmo, expertly broke the lull left by Devil You Know. Anselmo’s rapport with his fans is something to be envied; in just a matter of moments he had the crowd at his command. When he trotted out favorites like “Witchtripper” and “Bury Me in Smoke,” Iron City erupted. The lethargic audience was suddenly a whirlwind of fights, moshes, crowd surfers and weed smoke, as if Anselmo’s mere presence was enough to incite a riot. Security guards were taxed during the performance, constantly lunging in and out of the crowd to quell violence and cart off stage hoppers.

 

Where Down invoked frenzy, Black Label Society invoked awe. Zakk Wylde’s appearance caused the audience to fall silent and push as tightly as possible along the foot of the stage. Reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s live show, the band broke out smoke machines and colored lights forming pentagrams around Wylde, while the band played as long and has hard as they wanted on any given song. Wylde would jam on a song an extra four or five minutes, but at the first sign of fatigue from his fans he would deftly change gears and pull the audience back in. It was apparent the other bands on the bill were rushed off, Down was only allotted 40 minutes, so Black Label Society could stretch out and deliver a headliner worthy performance.

 

Despite its inadequate beginning, The Golden Gods Tour delivered on the back end. The twin powerhouses of Down and Black Label Society wiped away any disappointment from the opening acts and sent fans home well-sated on it’s metal smorgasbord. For anyone that likes heavy music served slow and sleazy, this is a tour you should not miss.