Tyler Hersko /Nevada Sagebrush

Troy Sanders, bassist and singer for the  heavy metal  group Mastodon, performs onstage at The Grand  Sierra Resort and  Casino on Thursday, Oct. 16. The group is known for  its  complex instrumentation.

By Tyler Hersko

“We started this leg yesterday in Boise, so sorry if we’re still a little rusty,” said Gojira vocalist Joe Duplantier.

They weren’t rusty.

The French death metal quartet and fellow heavy metal bands Kvelertak and Mastodon broke a lengthy drought of heavy metal concerts in Reno during their performance at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino last Thursday. The concert, which was headlined by the Grammy Award-nominated Mastodon, served as a much-needed shot in the arm for Reno’s heavy metal enthusiasts, and made for one of the city’s more memorable rock concerts in recent years.

It’s worth appreciating that Mastodon even chose to perform in Reno. Aside from Tool and GWAR, few notable heavy metal bands frequent the city. Mastodon is one of the genre’s most acclaimed acts, and it wouldn’t be unrealistic to consider the Georgia natives to be one of heavy metal’s most recognizable faces.

Mastodon’s performance went off without a hitch. While the night’s earlier performances were full of raw energy and monolithic technicality, Mastodon’s 75-minute set served as something of an intermediary. Their songs ran the gamut from pleasingly groovy riffs to impressively comprehensive soloing, with several moments of rapid, headbanging intensity thrown in for good measure.

It’s expected that a band to perform a fair number of songs off of its latest record, but Mastodon’s notable lack of variety was somewhat disappointing. Eight of their seventeen songs hailed from “ Once More ‘Round the Sun,” and while they may have translated well to a live setting, it seemed like a missed opportunity, given Mastodon’s highly celebrated and diverse discography.

That aside, Mastodon’s performance was an evident crowd pleaser. The set list’s propensity for catchy and melodic tracks drew in a fair majority of the audience, while the occasional spurts of heaviness kept the more hardcore fans placated.

As enjoyable as Mastodon’s set was, their opening acts were no less entertaining. Mastodon is a fairly listenable band by genre standards and certainly isn’t the kind of group you’d expect to see performing alongside prominent extreme metal acts such as Gojira and Kvelertak. Of course, Mastodon isn’t known for conformity, and if the overwhelmingly positive reception to their opening bands was any indication, the selection paid off in spades.

Kvelertak opened the night with enthusiastic aplomb. The band’s unique mix of dissonant, shrieking black metal and frantic hardcore punk caught the crowd’s attention within seconds. Many opening acts struggle to perform for the typically detached and impatient concertgoers who just want to see the night’s headlining act.

That wasn’t the case here. Despite what the abrasiveness of the band’s musical influences may imply, Kvelertak is a relatively accessible heavy metal act and their  half hour of nonstop action kicked off the concert with a kind of intensity and simple likability unbecoming of most live rock bands, let alone most opening acts.

While Kvelertak’s high-speed riffs and energetic vocals make for a rather clear-cut listen, Gojira is a comparably trickier beast. The band is most recognized for relatively slow, expansive and highly technical death metal soundscapes that encompass a variety of themes and ideas. This translates to albums that many would consider to be rewarding listens, if not particularly easy ones.

Whether or not that may be, accessibility wasn’t an issue during Gojira’s performance. It was clear that Gojira was to be a highlight for many a concertgoer, as the audience’s ecstatic cheering and applause wasn’t far behind Mastodon’s reception. The band didn’t fail to live up to the hype.

Thanks to an intelligent set list, which included fan favorites such as “Backbone” and the sprawling “Flying Whales,” Gojira’s performance was less of the mindless brutality that stereotypes the genre, and more a grippingly hypnotic display of sonic dissonance. Using words such as “hypnotic” or “trancelike” may seem taboo when describing a heavy metal concert, but Gojira’s 45-minute performance certainly fit the bill.

Unfortunately, the band fell prey to a recurring issue of heavy metal concerts: inaudible vocals. To be frank, aside from a few brief interactions with the audience between songs, Duplantier was essentially inaudible. It’s always a shame when one of the genre’s most identifiable aspects is drowned out during a concert, but thankfully, Gojira’s involved instrumental sections made for a thoroughly engrossing listen regardless.

It’s hard to realistically imagine a more widely appealing lineup to bring heavy metal back to Reno. Kvelertak’s frantic speed and boundless energy kicked the night off on a high note while Gojira’s raging swath of technicality satisfied the concert’s need for metallic fury. Mastodon’s performance had the sheer brand appeal, and set list quibbles aside, closed the event on a suitably rewarding note.

A smattering of heavy metal artists of varying subgenres and levels of intensity are scheduled to perform in Reno throughout the remainder of the year. Thanks to a diverse array of bands and thoroughly solid performances, Mastodon and company’s visit to town showed that the city’s live heavy metal scene is ready to close the year on a high note.

Tyler Hersko can be reached at thersko@sagebrush.unr.edu.