w/Killswitch Engage, Slayer
Fri Dec 10, Premiere,
7 pm, $30 adv.

Mastodon vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders is psyched to be out of the van right now. Besides the fact that his band has played over 400 shows in the last two years, the stink of sweaty man-ass was starting to accumulate. "We just upgraded to the Ford E-350 Fartbox," he explains. "We did have a 250 Fartbox that just eclipsed 300,000 miles, so we had to get a new one. I mean, we've got two fart hatches--one on each side of the van--but it takes more than just circulation of air at 65 miles an hour to get that thick, hot cloud of stench out the window." Sanders is currently wandering the parking lot of a NAPA Auto Parts in New Market, Virginia, where the band's trailer has just gone tits up en route to their gig in D.C. "For the fourth time, we've gotten lucky and there was a garage right off the very next exit," Sanders enthuses. "The guys here are super-cool. They're like, 'Oh, you guys are Mastodon on tour with Slayer? No problem.' They dropped everything they were doing and they're actually fixing our trailer right now."

Prompt service is just one of many perks the members of Mastodon have been enjoying of late. The Atlanta quartet's dizzying second full-length, Leviathan (Relapse) has spent the last few months getting jizzed on by music journalists around the world, and is currently racking up top-five accolades in every publication with a year-end metal list and a modicum of taste. In support of the album, Sanders and his comrades--guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds, drummer Brann Dailor, and guitarist Bill Kelliher--have spent the better part of 2004 holding down opening slots for bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Fear Factory, and "the almighty" Slayer (not to mention Slayer's traveling wall of blood). With their vertiginous riffery, scorched-earth vocals, and Dailor's show-stopping power-skins, Mastodon have even managed to avoid the onset of Opening for Slayer Syndrome, in which opening acts are treated to upwards of 2,000 middle fingers, synchronized chants of "You suck!" and/or Nazi-rally styled demands for the headliners. It's a degrading phenomenon that has reduced even some of the most grizzled metal warriors to tears. "I've seen it happen to Sick of It All and Meshuggah," Sanders laughs. "So we all knew from the get-go that this is one of the toughest crowds to open for. But we've managed to keep their attention--we haven't really given them a chance to go into the Slayer chant. We just plow through 30 minutes of heaviness without a break, and I think we've turned a few heads and dropped a few jaws."

Did we mention the fact that Leviathan--which was actually recorded in Seattle this March with Minus the Bear keyboardist Matt Bayles--is a concept album based on Herman Melville's maritime epic/whale-watching guide Moby-Dick? Well, it is--except for the last song, "Joseph Merrick," which is an instrumental tribute to the Elephant Man. For Mastodon, the similarities between their lives as tireless road dogs and Captain Ahab's myopic fixation on the White Whale, AKA "the salt-sea mastodon," are obvious. "We jump in our van for three weeks at a time, or three months at a time--kind of like a whaling expedition," Sanders points out. "Ahab went out with one goal--to pursue this white whale. We go out there, half-clueless and half-determined, to play this music that encompasses our body and souls. Ahab was gonna do it whether it drove him crazy or it killed him, and we're the same way. We're always losing jobs, pissing off our girlfriends, not seeing our kids for weeks and months at a time, because we've always had this fire in our guts, this goal to pursue."

As Sanders can attest, Mastodon's fans seem to appreciate the personal sacrifice. "Two nights ago in Cincinnati, this 80-year-old grandmother with no teeth and a magazine waited outside the venue for two and a half hours because she wanted to hug us," he laughs. "The magazine had our pictures in it, and she pointed to my face in the magazine and said, 'Okay, you're Troy,' and then hugged me. She did the same exact thing to each one of us--twice. And then she said, 'I love you all. Have a good night.' It was definitely the most bizarre story of this week."

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