Mastodon, Gojira, Baroness – Palace Theatre, Melbourne 25/02/14

It may seem a no-brainer to assemble three of the most critically acclaimed and consistently uncompromising metal bands on the Soundwave 2014 bill and unleash them upon 4,000 civilians over two nights, but the subjective ties between the three groups go even deeper.

What the three of them share is the fact that the critics who bestow the accolades upon them, the journalists who document their movements, and even the fans, who simply give them everything, right down to the shirts on their backs, are utterly flummoxed when it comes time to neatly categorise them and package them into a befitting genre.

Upon the release of Baroness’ debut EP, pertinently titled First, they were hailed as one of the bands that sludge fans, even those who lean progressive, should keep their eye on. As they began releasing albums there was no sign that they would one day abandon the metal soundscape almost entirely in favour of a deeply soulful brand of hard rock, personal to the point of confidential.

French outfit Gojira seamlessly tie together elements of death, groove, and thrash metal, with a technical bent that is done tastefully and in servitude to the individual song, with lyrics that shift momentarily from dogged self-exploration to holding man accountable for his ill deeds. Meanwhile, over the course of five albums, Mastodon have proven that they will go toe-to-toe with any band in any genre and not only beat them at their own game, but eviscerate them like the poodles they are.

It was Baroness, with their considerable technical prowess and infectious amiability that welcomed the audience to the show. Following the instrumental Green Theme — performed with the house lights up, giving everyone the opportunity to see the gratitude and glory in singer John Baizley’s smile — they pressed into Take My Bones Away, with its down-tuned, arpeggio riff marrying perfectly with Baizley’s vocal, which sits somewhere between town cryer and football chant.

Having thanked the crowd for “coming out early and choosing to spend your evening with us,” they were joined by Mastodon guitarist Brent Hinds, who was met with delayed cheers, as most fans were still crowded around the merch table. Now a quartet, the band played through the layered, complex A Horse Called Golgotha, before Hinds left them to finish on the musically comely and lyrically isolated Eula.

Explosia is the perfect label to apply to what happened once the French four-piece walked onto the stage to chants of “GO-JI-RA! GO-JI-RA! GO-JI-RA!” They played through a pounding and animated set that vividly illustrated the power, talent, and pure metal knowledge that has propelled Gojira from an overseas obscurity, to a universally recognised emblem of heavy metal played without compromise or relent.

After Flying Whales, which colourfully encapsulated the technical ability possessed (as in The Exorcist) by members Joe Duplantier, Mario Duplantier, Christian Andreu, and Jean-Michel Labadie, frontman Joe explained the meaning behind the next assault as though he was Henry V.

L’Enfant Sauvage, he said, is about the weight of difficulties placed upon modern man by society. He besieged the audience to “stay kids, don’t grow up,” and many were sure to heed his advice. Before they retired, the sounds of Toxic Garbage Island and The Gift of Guilt coursed into the crowd and manifested themselves as an oscillating circle pit. “Merci beaucoup.”

The burly Bill Kelliher, the woodsman-like Brent Hinds, the frenetic Brann Dailor, and the long-limbed lankiness of Troy Sanders all seemed to tower 50 feet tall as they spread themselves equidistant on the stage, plugging the audience into the Sabbath-esque drag of Black Tongue. It would have surprised few if the stage had simply collapsed under the velocity of Mastodon.

From there it was Divinations, Crystal Skull, and Trampled Under Hoof — cock, fire, reload. Kelliher and Hinds increased the load already bearing on the audience tenfold with the ramp into Dry Bone Valley as Sanders threw himself about the stage, before meeting face-to-face with Dailor, who was busy generating torque behind the drum kit.

Nothing was said between songs, Megaladon transitioned into Thickening with an obscure soundbite siphoned through the PA to which Sanders simply mouthed along to. Their set illustrated the scope as well as the brawn of their catalogue, from the intergalactic pornography of Stargasm, to the broken seafarer’s lament of set-closer Blood and Thunder.

At the end, Dailor came to the front of the stage to thank the audience and bid them a farewell into the Melbourne night, before joining his brothers backstage, all of them.

Watch: Soundwave 2014 Interviews – Mastodon

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