Mastodon in The Olympia Theatre, Dublin, on Tuesday 15th January 2019
Ivar Nikolaisen only replaced founding member Erlend Hjelvik as frontman of Kvelertak in the summer of 2018, but if you were none the wiser as to the inner workings of the Norwegian sextet, you would be forgiven for thinking his tenure was long solidified. He cuts a figure a bit like Joey Ramone, if Joey was a bit more ragged, a bit more volatile. He’s certainly the most animated figure on an already lively stage, throwing himself and the mic stand around in between his bandmates in a gig typified by feet on the monitors and fists in the air.
Nikolaisen spends much of the set with his arms, or his beer, aloft, punching triumphantly, as well he should. As their momentum-twisting blend of punk, metal and a dousing of classic rock riffage comes to a close, Nikolaisen lands out with what must surely be the biggest flag The Olympia has ever seen, waving it over the heads of the pit and almost reaching the upper balconies. Because that’s just what you do when you’ve scored a victory.
It’s with a light touch from some 20th century luminaries that Mastodon herald their arrival in the sold-out room, as Gene Kelly’s Singin’ In The Rain plays over the PA, and Rodney Dangerfield and Redd Foxx gaze out, immortalised on Brann Dailor’s kick drum skin. A smiling Brent Hinds comes out with his Flying V held over his head, and Iron Tusk immediately dispels any lightness of mood. From the opening grind, Mastodon’s is a set of sheer sonic heft.
There’s a birthday in the band tonight, Brent Hinds’, and while there’s a sense of their enjoyment of the mechanics of the set, it’s barely perceptible in the intensity of the playing – grimacing faces wrestling with the machines as Dailor takes vocals on Steambreather; a tom-heavy Ghost of Karelia, three men riffing with furrowed brows; Hinds on his knees at his trio of amps, back to the crowd for Capillarian Crest; Troy Sanders’ pained expression through Sleeping Giant, head thrown back as Hinds’ reverbed solo carries over the stalls.
All this, even before Neurosis’ Scott Kelly joins for the set’s second half. When Kelly stands, hands gripped around the mic stand, it’s as if he’s using every piece of self-control not to snap it in half. It seems to anchor him to the stage as his guttural shred of a vocal counters that of Sanders’ beside him. Kelly straps on a guitar for Diamond in the Witch House, a third texture of electric to augment those of Hinds and Bill Kelliher before Blood and Thunder closes the night out, with a crowd in full voice and Sanders windmilling his arm over his bass.
There’s no encore, just a bizarre walk-off by a seemingly pissed-off Brent after a guitar slip-up, followed by a semi-stand-up routine from Brann Dailor, holding a bouquet of drumsticks. He talks a bit about his Irish ancestry (“Nothing fancy, just Irish relatives, that’s all“), before asking the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to Brent, then tosses the sticks to the pit dwellers. As a final send-off, it’s nothing when held against Ivar Nikolaisen’s gigantic flag. Hell of a set, though.