By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Delivering an innovative style of heavy music that draws on elements of hardcore punk, ’70s progressive rock and experimental metal, Atlanta-based foursome Mastodon has been turning heads with its original sound and pummeling live performances since forming in 2000.
The band came together when former members of noise-punk band Today is the Day Brann Dailor (drums) and Bill Kelliher (guitar) met Troy Sanders (bass) and Brent Hinds (guitar) at a High on Fire show and discovered a mutual interest in iconoclastic sludge-rock outfits Neurosis and Melvins as well as the twin-guitar classic rock of Thin Lizzy. While the band originally had a singer, by the time they issued it’s debut Lifesblood EP on Relapse Records in 2001, the band had trimmed down to it’s quartet line-up.
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That effort and their first proper album Remission the following year established Mastodon as a force to be reckoned with. Powered by the technically accomplished fury of Dailor (who plays like original Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo channeling jazz giant Elvin Jones), the group put out one of the most talked about metal albums of 2004 with their widely praised sophomore effort Leviathan. A conceptual recording that drew inspiration from Melville’s epic “Moby Dick” and Dailor’s avowed affection for progressive rock, the pulverizing album topped many year-end “best of” lists and is still hailed as a masterwork over a decade later.
For the band’s ambitious follow-up Blood Mountain in 2006, Mastodon brought ever-growing complexity to both the quantum-physics riffage of guitarists Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher and the conceptual storyline cooked up by principle lyricist Dailor that drew more on heavy psychedelia and featured collaborative input from The Mars Volta singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Queens of the Stone Age principle Josh Homme. Crack the Skye in 2009 found the band going even deeper with an allegorical tale that revolving around astral projection, exploration of the spirit world and the planned assassination of the mad monk Rasputin in Czarist Russia.
The band would dial back the conceptual element for its next two albums — The Hunter in 2011 and 2014’s Once More ‘Round the Sun. But despite a more straightforward and sometimes even pop-minded approach, Mastodon’s music remains light years ahead of most of their contemporaries in terms of musical complexity. The group took a bit longer with it’s next recording project, spending over two years on a return to its concept-album roots for Emperor of Sand, Mastodon’s seventh studio album.
A rumination on time and mortality that was heavily influenced by the battles with cancer being fought by several friends and family members — including Kelliher’s mother, who succumbed to the disease last year — the album follows the tale of the protagonist who has been sentenced to die in a malevolent desert by an evil sultan. Emperor of Sand features some of Mastodon’s most intricate and pop-minded vocal performances yet while still embracing the crushing riffs and complex time signatures that have become their signature. For their current headlining tour, the group is joined by SoCal rock party starters the Eagles of Death Metal and cinematic instrumental metal outfit Russian Circles for a potent triple bill at the Warfield.
Mastodon with Eagles of Death Metal and Russian Circles
Tuesday, April 18, 7:30 p.m. $37.50