Mastodon, Gojira, and Kvelertak at Town Ballroom (2014)


Mastodon and Gojira and Kvelertak, oh my!  Mastodon and Gojira and Kvelertak, oh my!

If you were within 20 feet of the Town Ballroom stage last Monday night, there’s a good chance that you navigated your way through the floor with the same degree of reticence Dorothy utilized prior to entering the Haunted Forest.

One of Buffalo’s finest clubs was playing host to three of contemporary metal’s most intimidating ensembles, so, even if you hadn’t planned on mixing it up among the crazies, your peripheral vision needed to be locked in to avoid being thrust into the fray as an innocent bystander.

DePaul University professor Dr. Deena Weinstein would have been in her glory given how deeply the crowd simultaneously embodied and challenged traditional theoretical constructs behind heavy metal as a youth subculture.  The preservationist tendencies of the music fueled a rebellious sense of unity between the men while their female counterparts refused to be relegated to their usual spot on the sidelines.

What used to be a patriarchal province was transformed into a sociological battleground in which age, sex, and gender expectations were shelved in lieu of the opportunity for women to stand toe to toe without requiring that their fellow metalheads throw down at half-speed.  The fact that many of these women went out of their way to initiate contact was also something of a revelation, because it illustrated how radically different modern female fans are compared to the generation of women who took it upon themselves to elevate the 1980’s Sunset Strip scene.

Instead of denigrating themselves in the name of rock ‘n’ roll, today’s women are ready, willing, and able to be equal participants when it comes to orchestrating the mother of all circle pits, which, when you think about it, is a necessary if semi-contentious contribution to the growth of the genre moving forward.

The sold-out crowd anxiously awaited the machine gun beat of Kvelertak before declaring open season on one another, but all it took was one glimpse of frontman Erlend Hjelvik in his owl headgear to bring everyone’s emotions to a boil.  How he managed to breathe under such a contraption is anyone’s guess, because it didn’t appear to be the least bit amenable to performing on a stage where the temperature frequently eclipsed triple digits.

Thankfully, Kvelertak’s style is predicated more on energy and violent instrumentation than lyrical coherence, so, even when Hjelvik removed the owl later on, the songs remained the same.  While the band had its share of supporters, I tend to gravitate toward groups that are able to successfully assimilate melody into their muscular metal framework, which ultimately separates the goods from the greats.

Gojira, on the other hand, came close to stealing the show with their primeval blend of scathing vocals and distinctive arrangements refusing to fit into any single category.  Trying to decipher their catalog can be challenging, because they shift from brooding start-stop death metal to intricate chord progressions often within the same six-minute composition.

“L’Enfant Sauvage” and “Toxic Garbage Island” stood out as the cornerstones of what was a feverishly well-received set, evidenced by the barrage of bodies that soared over head throughout.

Vocalist/guitarist Joe Duplantier established a connection with the fans that transcended the occasion while his brother Mario presented a case as to why he should be considered one of the elite metal drummers we have in 2014.

For an evening already grasping for the straws of levity, Mastodon’s arrival didn’t do much to brighten the mood.

The fearsome Atlanta-bred quartet opened with “Hearts Alive,” a hulking slab of sludge metal which exemplifies why they’re the leading metal outfit of their generation.  From there, it was “Divinations,” “Crusher Destroyer,” and “Capillarian Crest,” three seismic statements centered around the idea that losing one’s self in the moment is the most effective way to achieve musical excellence.

Guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher, bassist Troy Sanders, and drummer Brann Dailor are so intoxicated by the enormity of their creative process that their expressions seldom change.  Executing each song to perfection becomes as vital to the fans’ satisfaction as it is to the fulfillment of the band members themselves, and their demeanor reflects that at every turn.

Western New York will experience a litany of hard rock and metal shows from now until the end of the summer, but none are likely to approach what Town Ballroom produced on a Monday night in May.


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