@ Newcastle o2 Academy, February 21 2010

Imagine Yes as a polished thrash metal band and this is the sound you would hear. Progressive, intricate, mind-blowing works played with intense pace and a good degree of passion.

Mastodon might have mellowed (relatively speaking) with the much lauded Crack The Skye but at their heart is a rhythm section determined to leave no artistic stone unturned. The controlled power unleashed by drummer Brann Dailor and bass player Troy Sanders is at the heart of this band’s explosive live performance and truly is a marvel to behold. On this evidence Dailor, in particular, is fast approaching iconic status within the world of dextrous rock stixmen. Beating his way through two halves of a wholly entertaining set, the man behind the kit can now be compared, with confidence, to Peart, Ulrich and Portnoy.

Indeed, throughout a set which lasted little longer than an hour it was impossible to take your eyes off Dailor’s devastatingly focused work. The Crack The Skye segment seemed to fly by in a blur of monstrous riffs and mighty vocal statements but an initially dreadful mix took the gloss of Divinations.

By the time epic four-parter The Czar was booming across the Academy floor it was finally possible to fully appreciate Bill Kelliher’s mesmerising axe work and the multi-talented Brent Hinds – the main beneficiary of Mastodon’s move towards a cleaner, if not leaner, sound.

Four years ago it would have been plain daft to speculate that these US metal titans could utterly overshadow the bullish Blood Mountain and yet tonight proved that Kelliher and co. have done exactly that. The second, Blood-soaked, half of Mastodon’s set was more furious than the first and even inspired the odd head to bang and fist to pump from an audience clearly gathered to stare in awe rather than rock out with freedom.

But it quickly became apparent that the material the band has unleashed in the last 12 months is on a completely different level; think Metallica’s leap from Master Of Puppets to …And Justice For All or Machine Head’s post-Blackening transformation. Like those metal masters before them, Mastodon are on the cusp of a creatively rich era and the back catalogue no longer stands up to Crack The Skye‘s obvious quality.

It’s as simple (or not) as that and this gig of two halves proved the point.