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Mastodon have been bringing nerdy extreme metal to the masses since signing with Warner Brothers after their second full-length album, the Moby Dick-based concept album Leviathan. But on the Atlanta band’s latest record, Crack the Skye, they drop most of their extreme tendencies in favor of what is basically really heavy prog-rock. Their sold-out show at the 9:30 Club this past Tuesday showcased Crack the Skye in its entirety, plus a second set of older material.

After the jump, lots of photos (full gallery here) and some scattered thoughts about the show, including regarding openers Kylesa and Intronaut.

I have to say, Crack the Skye leaves me a bit cold, although I do think it’s a big step up from Blood Mountain, which unlike most critics I absolutely hated. But live, it came off quite well, with the addition of a keyboardist giving the band an even denser sound than usual. Drummer Brann Dailor is a joy to watch; many drummers of his caliber have an intensely physical, dominating presence, but Dailor is the opposite: he makes everything look easy, seeming almost relaxed as he beats out constantly shifting rhythms and over-the-top fills. This mirrors the ridiculous tightness of the group as a whole, and the way they navigate wildly complicated passages with practiced ease.

The Crack the Skye set was nice, and a lengthy set of Blood Mountain songs got an impressive reception from the crowd, but the old metalhead in me was delighted only when the band broke out a few tunes from Remission and Leviathan. The set list was a bit weird in the sense that the biggest hits from the old albums weren’t played (“Sleeping Giant,” “Blood and Thunder,” etc). But it’s clear that Mastodon is a band interested mostly in moving forward rather than looking back—a commendable trait even if I don’t happen to like the direction they’re moving in.

Fellow Georgians Kylesa are also progressing with each album they release, but unlike Mastodon I find their new directions very compelling. This year’s Static Tensions is a fantastic record that finds the band mixing influences from heavy music of all stripes, from punk and hardcore to stoner/sludge to death metal. I miss some of the atmospheric Pink Floyd influence that was found in earlier albums, but on the other hand, the newfound focus on wall-to-wall aggression means that Static Tensions is the first Kylesa record where it feels like the band’s dual-drummer lineup actually gets something interesting to do.

Kylesa ripped through a set drawn largely from Static Tensions and 2006’s Time Will Fuse Its Worth, and they were the highlight of the bill for me. They were also the most energetic onstage, and while I’m not sure how much of the crowd was familiar with them before their set, it certainly seemed like that had everyone sold. Just a few months ago, Kylesa was playing at the 150-capacity DC9, but stepping up and playing to 1,200 screaming fans seemed to come perfectly naturally to them.

Finally, the first openers were Intronaut: another band that a few short months ago played at DC9. I mentioned then that their stage setup was indicative of their sound, with their bassist front and center. I love these guys: they’re like technical metal with a total freelancer of a bassist, and in a genre filled with bands that can sometimes sound a little too samey, they stand out in the crowd. Live, they have zero stage presence whatsoever, but the sparse early-evening crowd was impressed; Intronaut’s brainy, complicated death metal is a good fit for a Mastodon bill.

Full photoset of all three bands here.