Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge and High on Fire
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Better than: Seeing the Archies, Alvin and the Chipmunks or any other cartoon rock band
"There sure are a lot of nerds here for a heavy metal show," said a friend while overlooking the sea of fist-pumping, metal-crazed fans covering the floor of the Fillmore on Saturday night. With acts such as the seminal hard-core outfit Converge and reigning metal kings Mastodon on the same bill, you'd expect the crowd to take on a different, perhaps tougher complexion. So why all the nerds?
Although plenty of folks were on hand to see those two acts and High On Fire, the main attraction was Dethklok, an act who, its earliest inception, was made up entirely of cartoon characters and was featured on the Adult Swim show, Metalocalypse. On the show, Dethklok plays the role of the biggest heavy metal band on the planet, a band whose fame is so massive, it is described as "the world's greatest cultural force." Playing before a near capacity crowd at the Fillmore, the real Dethklok wasn't far off from achieving this.
A line that stretched the entire length of the Fillmore and wrapped around 16th street meant missing half of Converge's set. Fans shivered and smoked in the frigid Colorado air, some dressed in little more than their favorite metal band's t-shirt -- apparently Slayer doesn't make winter coats. Upon finally reaching the door, everyone was greeted by a blast of hot air and punishing sounds of Converge, and act that tows the line between Dillinger Escape Plan-esque math metal and brutal straight forward hardcore. Vocalist Jacob Bannon stalked the stage like a boxer waiting for the opening bell to ring, windmilling his arm with each guitar flourish and stomping his feet with each chest-rattling drum fill.
Unlike the two bands that followed, Converge seemed a bit out of place in a venue the size of the Fillmore. This is music meant for all ages warehouse shows in questionable parts of town, where if you don't leave with some blood on you, you have failed. After Bannon's microphone was thrown high into the air, somehow hitting the ground in near perfect unison with his band's last note, it was time for Mastodon.
Mastodon may have recorded one of the best metal albums of all time with its most recent, Crack the Skye. The album is a conceptual masterpiece which touches on the subjects of astral travel, wormholes and Rasputin. (Come to think of it, maybe some of those nerds were there to see Mastodon.) The group started the show the same way it does on the album, with the near six-minute anthem "Oblivion."
Mastodon favored material from Skye throughout the rest of its set, playing "Divinations" and "Quintessence" in succession while a screen behind displayed images of vast and starry landscapes leading on into endless astral highways. For a brilliant heavy metal record, Crack the Sky, isn't really that heavy. More Pink Floyd than Pantera, the album is dark, ominous, ambitious and thought provoking. Later in the set, Mastodon played a few cuts from its earlier albums but left out personal favorites like "Blood and Thunder" and "Colony of Birchmen." Weak.
For a cartoon band, Dethklok took a long time to set up. Now sure why Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small couldn't just draw up all the instruments and let the rock commence. It wasn't clear what role, if any, the cartoon would have to do with the band we were about to see. Would it be like the Gorillaz, whose musicians play behind a screen showing the cartoon members of the band leaving the illusion in tact? Not so much.
When Dethklok took the stage, any illusions were shattered. Small, who sings and plays guitar, looked nothing like the show's massively intimidating front man, Nathan Explosion. Instead, he was unassuming and plain and could've easily fronted a '90s pop rock band like Tonic or something. Appearances aside, Small and the rest of Dethklok, which includes one time Zappa guitar player Mike Keneally, are amazingly adept players and worked the Fillmore into a circle-pitted frenzy. The only nod to the show itself was a screen behind the band which showed clips of the show at seizure inducing speed.
It was hard to look at the spectacle and not laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. Brendon Small has to chuckle inside every time he plays. A cartoon-drawing, Berklee College of Music graduate is now fronting one of the most popular metal bands on the planet. It remains to be seen if Dethklok will become a cultural force whose fans will literally die to see them. Then again, considering the fans that nearly froze to death outside the Fillmore, it may happen sooner than later.
Personal Bias: I think Mastodon is the best metal band playing music today
Random Detail: The bass player for Dethklok plays the same kind of bass as William Murderface, only real.
By the Way: A guy dressed as Metalocalypse favorite Dr. Rockzo walked by the line outside prompting numerous people to yell, "I do cocaine!"