with Mastodon, Converge and High on Fire
It was cold as hell in Denver on Oct. 10. A freak (but increasingly more common) weather pattern of cold and snow hit Denver that morning and completely threw off the Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge and High On Fire tour’s scheduling. There’s something about bands making the trek between Utah and Colorado that causes strange Bermuda Triangle effects through Wyoming. Maybe that’s why no one plays there. Consequently, the bands got into town late, making it a small miracle that the show got off the ground relatively on time. Kids were lined up outside the Fillmore Auditorium starting in the early afternoon, braving the cold to get a piece of the cartoon-turned-live-show, that was still kind of a cartoon, of Dethklok. Unfortunately, because of the long line that stretched all the way around the block, we only saw the final two songs of High on Fire’s set. Way to open the doors 20 minutes before showtime, Fillmore—especially with 1000+ people in line.
Surely the gamers and Adult Swim fans in line could’ve cared less about High on Fire, but those who like them know they are the rare breed of band that can unite metal, indie and hardcore fans alike. The two-ish songs I caught were heavy, rockin’ and everything you’d expect from High on Fire. It was nice to see that there was at least a decent sized crowd up front to watch them.
Converge occupied the next slot on the show. Converge holds a place on my list of top five favorite bands, so I was curious to see how the large auditorium would pan out for their usually intimate and chaotic shows. This was something I spoke to guitar wizard Kurt Ballou about during my interview prior to the show and his opinion was that fast music like theirs wasn’t well suited to a room that large, but that it was great to be able to be out and play in front of a crowd that size. A place like the Fillmore may not be suited to fast music like theirs, but an advantage to experiencing them in that setting is hearing them through a worthy PA. The problem with small clubs is that the sound system can rarely keep up with the magnitude of their sound.
To start, Kurt Ballou walked out solo on the Fillmore’s huge stage and launched into the beginning of opener “Plagues.” Immediately you could tell who had heard of Converge and who hadn’t. Converge’s energy is infectious to their fans, meaning about 20-30 people in my vicinity started to get “the itch.” I could tell everyone else was waiting to see what would happen. The rest of the band came out and rocked the shit out of “Plagues.” There’s no middle ground with Converge and it seemed that those in the crowd who weren’t familiar with them made up their mind right there—mostly in favor.
The rest of their set was conservative (for Converge), meaning no “Jane Doe” or “The Saddest Day,” but it was still hard hitting. They played two songs off of the new album: “Dark Horse” and “Axe to Fall” which demonstrated the bands’ gymnastic abilities on their respective instruments. Perhaps the most telling part of Converge’s performance, and their attempts to break down the gap between band and crowd, was during “No Heroes” when Jacob Bannon repeatedly threw the microphone into the crowd so fans could scream along. Giant venue be damned, these guys are punk rock through and through, which is something to admire.
After Converge’s blistering set, Mastodon was the next to occupy the stage. I say occupy since Mastodon simply played their new album “Crack the Skye” from front to back. I’m not a huge fan of bands playing albums from beginning to end. One of the Mastodon’s encore, however, was a totally different ball game. The graphics that were swirling and changing behind them for the show quickly morphed into sequences that contained artwork from each of their prior albums. It seemed as if a different band took the stage, the Mastodon that came out for the encore looked like they were having more main reasons being, if you haven’t had a chance to get into their new material you are completely lost with nothing to hold on to for the duration of the set. In the case of Mastodon, the new album is more mellow and developed than their prior efforts, which is fine, but it doesn’t lend itself to a captivating stage presence. Needless to say their set wasn’t overtly engaging. Mastodon showcased their musical prowess and aptitude for atmosphere, but it simply resulted in a mediocre performance. fun, and because of that, the crowd’s energy was ratcheted up as well. These 5 or 6 songs, featuring songs from their prior albums, salvaged the set from relegation to concert obscurity, to something memorable.
Dethklok headlined the night, and it was apparent that this was who the majority of the crowd was there to see. A Metalocalypse cartoon opened the set, with the band arriving in shadows. They played the remainder of the set in shadows, really shifting the focus onto the screen. Their set could be viewed in two ways. On the one hand, it was really original, watching a cartoon live that’s mixed with a concert, which is something that’s not terribly common—especially amongst death metal bands. However, the other way this could be viewed, is that for the music to be precisely synced up with the cartoon it required the band to be spot on. No mistakes, no sloppy playing, which is why there was a need for studio musicians to play the show with Brendon Small and Gene Hoglan. This also forces the performance to be 100% about the visuals on screen, and less about the music, taking out the things that make a live band interesting. Ultimately, the animation combination works, and it won me over. The animated intermissions during the set were really funny as were most of the images during the performance. The precision aspect grew on me as well: it was a meticulously crafted show, and definitely one for even casual fans to catch. Kudos to Small for really sticking it to overly serious metal fans.
Initially, this seemed like a strange bill of bands, but in hindsight it offered Dethklok the chance to showcase some talented, lesser-known bands, and allowed those talented, lesser-known bands to lend even more credibility to the metal mythos of Dethklok.