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Mastodon: Unstuck, unhinged and unleashed in Atlanta

With Once More ’Round The Sun, Mastodon have come back from the brink. We headed to Atlanta for an eye-opening couple of days with the metal titans.

On a warm spring evening, as the sun melts behind the skyscrapers of its downtown business district, the suburbs of Atlanta are suffused in a soft, honeyed glow.

In this golden hour, as one drives past beautiful colonial houses tucked discreetly behind shields of magnolias, cherry blossoms and Southern pines in the shadows of the imposing granite monolith Stone Mountain, it’s easy to understand why Georgia’s state capital is ranked among America’s fastest-growing cities. Twenty years ago, with cocaine ravaging its poorest area and drugs-related gang violence spiralling out of control, Atlanta was labelled the most dangerous city in the US, but in 2014 it’s feted nationally for its unique mix of high-tech business acumen, cutting-edge arts and old-fashioned Southern charm and hospitality. 

Once known as ‘Thrasherville’, in tribute to local entrepreneur and politician John Thrasher who spearheaded its expansion in the 19th century, the newly confident city now rejoices in the nickname ‘Hotlanta’, in recognition of its burgeoning reputation among hip, young professionals keen to put down roots in the area.

Today is a day of celebration for one local family. It’s Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher’s 43rd birthday, and while his sons Harrison and Conan practise skateboard tricks on the asphalt road outside the bijou bungalow the family are renting while building work is completed upon their new dream home elsewhere in the city, his wife Julianne is preparing a hearty Sunday dinner of barbecued steak, mashed potatoes, vegetables and home-baked bread for a small gathering of family friends. As the man of the hour cradles a neighbour’s baby daughter, conversation loops easily around holiday plans, absent friends and the traditional joys and stresses of family life. It’s only when Julianne casually recalls that her husband’s 40th birthday was spent in a rehab facility, that one is reminded that this life isn’t always filtered through such a hazy, soft-focus.

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