PHOTOS: Dethklok, Mastodon, Converge, High On Fire

By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 21, 2009 4:20PM

Special to Chicagoist from Chris Foresman

The disaffected youth of Chicago were in for a treat last Saturday at the Aragon Ballroom. The band behind Adult Swim's Metalocalypse, Dethklok, rolled into town, along with metal savants Mastodon, metalcore veterans Converge, and Oakland's answer to Motörhead, High on Fire.

Read our full review after the jump.

High on Fire took the stage early, at 6:30 p.m., even as the all-ages crowd was still filtering in from the balmy Chicago evening. The three-piece tore through a short, tight set of British-style garage metal in under 30 minutes. Stage changes were quick, and ran like clockwork; I suspect the reason was due to the all-ages show needing to finish by 11pm. Also, numerous cameramen were on hand to film the concert, ostensibly for a Mastodon and/or Dethklok DVD.

Salem, Massachusetts' Converge took the stage next, owning the crowd by wailing out hits from Jane Doe, No Heroes, and even their new album, Axe to Fall. The predominately teenaged crowed—most wearing Dethklok t-shirts, weren't fully prepared for Converge's signature blend of complex metal played with a hardcore sensibility. Admittedly, it was rather strange seeing the band up on such a huge stage, but front man Jacob Bannon made it his personal jungle gym, jumping and screaming throughout the band's entire set. A sizable contingent of Converge fans were concentrated near stage left, moshing in step to the music and singing along to every chorus.

Metal masters Mastodon took its turn on the stage after another quick set change. A large LED array at the back of the stage played a series looped, unearthly movie clips interspersed with motion graphics based on the album art for the band's latest, Crack the Skye. Most of the set was drawn from this album, which is by far the band's most moody and psychedelic to date. The effect of watching the screen and listening to the music was not unlike my last visit to Aragon in 1994 to see Neurosis—no surprise given the tight connections between both bands (Mastodon list Neurosis as an influence, and singer Scott Kelly has performed on several of Mastodon's albums). I simply sat in awe as the experience washed over me. The best description I think I could give is that it was the metal equivalent of staying up late and watching Pink Floyd's Pulse with the volume cranked up (and perhaps ingesting your preferred mind-altering substance). The band also managed to work in a couple songs from Blood Mountain, a track from Leviathan, and even a couple tunes from Remission. As intense as Mastodon's music is, though, the audience was markedly subdued during their set.

Clearly, many of the young'uns didn't quite have the sophistication to appreciate Mastodon, but the audience came to life once Dethklok began setting up. The aforementioned LED array played introductory Metalocalypse toons, and every time a new bit came on the screen the audience went into a frenzy. By the time Dethklok took the stage, the capacity crowd was nearly loosing its collective mind. The "world's greatest cultural force" took the stage, with Metalocalypse creator and Dethklok songwriter Brendon Small playing guitar and singing. Drummer Gene Hoglan was joined on stage by guitarist Mike Keneally and bassist Bryan Beller, while the cartoon band's videos played in perfect sync with the band live on stage. The effect was impressive, with every solo and every vocal matching up with the on-screen performances perfectly.

Perhaps the most ironic part of the performance is just how great a metal band Dethklok truly is. While the animated band is a pastiche of metal bands and musicians in general, and the lyrics of most Dethklok songs border on the absurd, the music and performance are impeccable, amazing death metal. It may be somewhat embarrassing for "real" metal bands, but Dethklok is one of the best metal bands performing today. Despite Mastodon being my favorite metal band of the last decade, I find myself admitting repeatedly that I prefer Dethalbum II over Crack the Skye. That preference carried over to the live performance, as Dethklok's was easily the best of the evening. But given the breadth of styles that each of the four bands contributed to the show, if you were there and didn't have a good time ... well, you were doing it wrong.

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