In these parts (the Northeast), most shows start at 7:30 PM EST. Doors are at 7:00, giving the crowd a good 30 minutes to mingle, get their “drink on,” or in the case of our own Dan Barkasi, sprint to the front to the stage like the good little fanboy that he is. Naturally, this scribe rolled up to Pittsburgh’s Stage AE for the night’s Mastodon/Opeth extravaganza at the designated 7:00 time, expecting to have some time to settle in, say hi to some friends, and gawk at the overpriced merchandise. The big issue was that openers Ghost started…at exactly 7:00 meaning that we had to listen to “Con Clavi Con Dio” and “Elizabeth” while waiting to enter the venue. Suffice it to say, we were miffed.
Once inside, we were able to plop down a prime viewing spot for the hooded rockers, whose classic metal sound was clearly audible inside Stage AE. Vocalist The Nameless Ghoul slowly stalked the stage like he was strolling the fields of Hades, his clean vocals crystal-clear, while the remaining members bobbed in unison to songs like “Stand By Him,” “Satan Prayer,” and traditional set closer “Ritual.” Afforded 30 minutes, Ghost effectively maximized their time and probably left an indelible impression on the crowd, of which consisted of a lot of hard-lined Opeth and Mastodon fans. Curious to hear what the forthcoming follow-up to Opus Eponymous will bring.
Since Mastodon and Opeth are clear-cut dual headliners, the two bands have opted to swap headlining spots for designated markets. In the case of Pittsburgh, Mastodon got the nod as show closers, meaning Opeth was up next. If their previous late-October 2011 trip to Pittsburgh was to be any indication, their set was to be yawn-inducing, dominated by cuts from their underwhelming Heritage album. Of course, it was, as set opener “The Devil’s Orchard,” “Slither,” and “I Feel the Dark” were featured prominently. The Swedes dipped back into the Damnation album for “Windowpane,” which was far more effective.
Akerfeldt and co. were able to rescue their set with the closing salvos of “Demon of the Fall,” and the monstrous “The Grand Conjuration,” both of which instantly got the crowd interested and headbanging. “Demon of the Fall” is what really did it, for as soon as Akerfeldt let out his trademark roar, the crowd roared back in approval. Should Opeth find the happy medium between their new material and old classics, they should have no problem remaining the live force they have been for a decade.
For Mastodon, their constant touring schedule has turned them into a live behemoth. Music as intricate and layered as theirs isn’t supposed to be this palpable live, but it is, and when the Georgia boys kicked into “Black Tongue,” it was one of those nights were it was easy to figure out Mastodon were “on.” Per their usual stage routine, no song introductions and no in-between song banter, just one from the song to the next, with last year’s The Hunter being the point of emphasis. Tracks such as the excellent “Blasteroid,” “Octopus Has No Friends,” “Dry Bone Valley,” and Ken McGrath favorite “Curl of the Burl” were hulking and massive, a testament to the all-world guitar tandem of Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher.
“Blood and Thunder” was one of the few non-The Hunter cuts to make the set, and naturally it was met with rapturous response and rightfully so – its main riff is one of the most identifiable in all of metal. Still, the fact that Mastodon can focus primarily on The Hunter and get away with it proves how deep their respective albums are. Their unconventional and uncompromising nature has gotten them this far, and now, they're a veritable metal institution. Couldn't happen to a bunch of cooler and more unpretentious dudes.