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All words: Jeb Gavin — All photos: Kevin Hulse

I’m going to do my best to avoid giving you a mediocre review of what I felt was a decent concert. Mastodon and Opeth put on, for all intents and purposes, a metal show this past Wednesday night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. Those of you who couldn’t care less about metal, this simply means ear-bleeding rock played fast while hundreds of black clad stoners stare at strobe lights. For metal fans, a double bill like Mastodon and Opeth is a Rorschach test: you see what you want to see, and can only mildly appreciate other people’s opinions.

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Most metal shows come down to guys dressed in black standing around watching guys dressed in black playing loud music while strobe lights flash. I’m not sure what non-metal fans expect. Actually, I know what most non-metal fans expect, the same thing anyone expects looking in from the outside of a subculture: uniformity. You hear the same complaints from fans and detractors of electronic music. “I don’t get it; I’m not going to take the time to understand it; it all sounds the same–like crap.” Much as I’d love to spend several paragraphs grumping about the choices we make (and the ones we allow to be made for us), that would just be a further diversion.

Metal is weirdly specific to region and subgenre. More important, the fans are all fiercely protective of their individual flavor of metal, and quickly derisive of all other different varieties. While the average person might have a specific if stereotypical view of “metal” fans, the more you listen to the music and engage fans in conversation, the more you learn the rather stark differences between the subgenres and their respective fans.

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In this case, many Opeth fans were openly dismissive of Mastodon. Opeth, hailing from Sweden, is a healthy combination of both black and death metal (NOT the same thing.) Mastodon is widely considered more sludge or stoner metal. Technically, black metal evolved into death metal, and both share similar elements of tremolo picking, hoarsely shouted vocals, pounding drums and sudden tempo changes. This is in contrast to sludge, a stoner metal variety most often found in the American South. While both sludge and black metal emanate from thrash metal, sludge is more akin to hardcore which is actually a kind of punk. Further, Mastodon and Opeth share progressive metal roots. Often progressive metal, the metal version of progressive rock, is ignored by almost all metal fans, since it simultaneously takes itself very seriously while retaining a sense of humor often alien to other kinds of metal. Progressive rock, the real source of many of metal’s most interesting drum work and tempo changes, is the ugly stepsister of metal.

Both Mastodon’s and Opeth’s music are heavily rooted in progressive music (their keyboardist is a big tipoff). And yet throughout the show, Mastodon fans looked slightly wary while Opeth played, and Opeth fans were disinterested in Mastodon for almost the same reasons. “Mastodon is prog punk!” “Opeth’s songs all sound the same!” Much as non-metal fans would like to believe it’s them against metal fans, really it’s just metal fans against other metal fans. Maybe the only thing metal fans like more than metal is complaining about all the metal they dislike. At least, that’s what I noticed most at their show.

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