By Dave Pehling

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Two leading lights of progressive heavy music share the stage at the Masonic in San Francisco when Coheed and Cambria and Mastodon bring “The Unheavenly Skye Tour” to the Bay Area on June 25th.

The groups may approach music from different perspectives — Coheed and Cambria bring elements of emo punk and math rock to their concept albums, while Mastodon plays a decidedly heavier mix of metal, hard rock and prog — but the pairing of the modern progressive-rock giants makes perfect sense. For this current tour, Mastodon revisits their landmark effort Crack the Skye, performing the album in its entirety along with a handful of other tracks from throughout their career.

With roots dating back to the 1990s when principles Claudio Sanchez and Travis Stevers first worked together in Nyack, New York, as members of the band Toxic Parents, Coheed and Cambria would emerge in the early 2000s, emerging from the ashes of Stevers and Sanchez’s emo-metal band Shabutie. Embracing a mix of progressive rock, pop, post hardcore and emo punk held together with Sanchez’s ambitious, concept-driven songwriting, Coheed and Cambria’s 2002 debut The Second Stage Turbine Blade.

Introducing the storyline of a series of science fiction comic books written by Sanchez centered around the characters Coheed and Cambria, the album (technically the second chapter in an overarching saga The Amory Wars) struck a chord with music fans. It’s follow-up In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 further expanded their audience, leading to a jump from indie label Equal Vision Records to Columbia for their third effort, the breakthrough album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness in 2005.

It’s first recording to land in the Billboard Top 10, the hit album established C and C as leaders of a new generation of progressive-rock bands. A relentless touring schedule both headlining it’s own shows and supporting the likes of Slipknot, Heaven and Hell and Iron Maiden further broadened the group’s following. While Coheed and Cambria has undergone some turnover in band membership — drummer Josh Eppard departed in 2006, only to return five years later; original bassist Michael Todd left in 2011 due to personal reasons — Sanchez and the band have continued to pursue his complex vision, expanding on the sci-fi universe of The Armory Wars even after the completion of the initial planned five album story arc.

Coheed and Cambria released their ninth album and latest chapter of their ongoing sci-fi epic Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures last year to wide acclaim and will be concentrating on the new material during their closing set for “The Unheavenly Skye Tour” with Mastodon. Delivering an innovative style of heavy music that draws on elements of hardcore punk, ’70s progressive rock and sludgy ’90s metal, the Atlanta-based quartet has been making its unique style of pummeling hard rock for the better part of two decades.

Coming 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 in 2000, the musicians discovered they had a mutual interest in iconoclastic sludge-rock outfits Neurosis and Melvins as well as the twin-guitar hard rock of Thin Lizzy. Though the band originally had a singer, by the time the group issued its debut Lifesblood EP on Relapse Records in 2001, the band had trimmed down to its current four-piece line-up.

Their first proper album Remission followed a year later, establishing 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) and featuring the labyrinthine riffs cooked by by Hinds and Kelliher, 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.

Mastodon (photo credit: Jimmy Hubbard)

The band would continue exploring concept albums on the next two recordings, branching out with a wider palette of sounds that embraced psychedelia on 2006’s epic Blood Mountain and its follow-up, the emotional 2009 opus Crack the Skye that found the band going even deeper. Inspired in part by the suicide of Dailor’s sister when she was only 14, the album unspooled an allegorical tale revolving around astral projection, Stephen Hawking’s wormhole theories, the exploration of the spirit world and the planned assassination of the mad monk Rasputin in Czarist Russia.

While Mastodon would depart from the concept album template for their next two efforts exploring a more traditional hard-rock sound — 2011’s The Hunter and Once More ‘Round the Sun in 2014 — the quartet’s latest salvo for Warner Bros. Records marks a return to using an album to tell a thematic story. 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. The effort became the band’s third Top 10 release in a row, placing high on several Billboard charts while marking Mastodon’s biggest international debut of the group’s career. Opening the show at the Masonic on June 25th will be Every Time I Die, a Buffalo-based metalcore outfit who are led by brothers Keith and Jordan Buckley.

Coheed and Cambria and Mastodon
Tuesday, June 25, 6:30 p.m. $39.50-$59.50
The Masonic