Mastodon / Gojira / Kvelertak Sound Academy, Toronto ON, May 10

Mastodon / Gojira / Kvelertak Sound Academy, Toronto ON, May 10
Photo: Adam Wills
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While Canadian Music Week is not exactly known for its aggressive music programming, there was at least one show taking place during the run of the festival that metalheads could look forward to: a tour that included progressive sludge monsters Mastodon, French extreme metallers Gojira and Norweigan mad scientists Kvelertak. The exceptionally curated lineup made only a single stop in Canada on their current spring tour, spending a single night laying waste to the Sound Academy. The venue was packed almost from the first, with long lines stretching away from security well before Kvelertak began their opening set, crowded with both ardent fans and casual observers who were won over by the end of the night.

Kvelertak's band name means "stranglehold," and is an apt metaphor for the way that front man Erlend Hjelvik handled the vast, rapt audience. A captivating performer with a vicious delivery, he did an exceptional job serving as a kind of chaotic ringmaster, navigating the wall of music the group produces together. As they wove together elements as disparate as black metal and hardcore punk, juxtaposing bluesy grooves with blasts of hardcore, their set was a rich and endlessly surprising experience in contrasts.

While Mastodon may have the name and notoriety to lead a tour of this size, Gojira unquestionably stole the show. Their performance was impossibly tight and proficient, the tones and textures of their music as deep and sumptuous as their energy level was wild. Frontman Joe Duplantier snarled and spat like a man possessed, then would suddenly cool and sweeten his performance for a few bars of heartrending clean singing. The rhythm section was especially hot, creating the immense drive needed to propel songs like "The Heaviest Matter In the Universe" and imbue the colossal, stomping weight into "Backbone." At one point Duplantier gleefully announced that "Toronto has a reputation," goading the pit into an ever-escalating frenzy as fans dove over each other, moving as a roiling sea of bodies. The thrilling, moving set was as brilliantly executed as it was satisfying; even the mighty Mastodon struggled to do justice following it.

The headliners cooled the show down a few degrees in terms of pace and energy, which would have been impossible to sustain; instead, they chose to treat the crowd to an exceptionally chosen setlist that took full advantage of the depth of their catalogue. Their most recent record, The Hunter, was regarded by many critics as a misstep in an otherwise venerable musical career, and indeed they chose to play only a few spare tracks from it; instead, the set was drawn primarily from older gems, as far back as their debut full-length, Remission. Songs from their triumphant 2004 release Leviathan (especially "Naked Burn" and "Megalodon") went over particularly well, and were played with a passionate excitement that bodes well for their next record, One More 'Round The Sun, which will be released in June and hopefully will represent a return to form for the Atlanta, Georgia prog metal superstars. While the exceptional laser-light show that accompanied the performance was dazzling, it was the music itself that held the Sound Academy starstruck.

Read an interview with Mastodon's Brann Dailor here.