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Great Hall, Cardiff University Students Union, Sat 2 Dec

The last time I saw Mastodon was in 2005, when a choice of Thin Lizzy and Melvins covers (Emerald and The Bit) summed up their approach: a cacophonic mix of the former’s harmonious guitar work and the latter’s dissonant sludge. In the intervening years, their sound has moved on, with a knack for interspersing their prog-metal with anthemic choruses earning them awards and a huge worldwide following of diehard fans, many of whom are crammed into the, as usual, stultifyingly sweaty Great Hall.

The sell-out crowd is treated to a superb lineup, with openers Russian Circles’ chugging instrumental metal providing an ideal appetiser ahead of the main event. Portland’s Red Fang emerge to a noisy welcome, shaking each other’s hands before getting down to business. Business in their case is groove-heavy stoner rock, with an emphasis on fun and a clear connection with the receptive crowd (helped by a bravely attempted smattering of Cymraeg from lead vocalist Aaron Beam). Closing on unlikely hit Prehistoric Dog, Red Fang leave the stage having made a lot of friends in the Welsh capital.

Mastodon’s choice of 13-minute epic The Last Baron as opener lays down something of a marker for a set replete with deep cuts and short of a few of their ‘hits’ (Curl Of The Burl and March Of The Fire Ants are amidst the omissions). Not that any amongst the baying masses down the front are bothered, happily howling along to oldies like Mother Puncher with every bit as much enthusiasm as for new tracks like Show Yourself and the instant classic Steambreather.

The band onstage offer little by way of verbal interaction (though a post-show debrief with drummer Brann Dailor, draped in a Wales flag, goes some way to building a bond with the crowd), but with so many screaming riffs and thunderous fills to cram into their 90-minute set, their professional approach is almost a necessity. Without encore, Mastodon’s head-long hurtle closes on a raging gallop through fan-favourite Blood And Thunder, leaving almost as abruptly as they arrived.

words and photos HUGH RUSSELL

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