October 15, 2016
Gas Monkey Live!
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Joseph De Leon
Folksy And Proggier Path Of The World's Most Prolific Death Metal Band
Opeth in the course of 25 years have gone from textbook Swedish power metal outfit that dabbled in the melancholy of Michael Hedges inspired acoustic passages to match their dark roar and guitars reminiscent of metal titans Iron Maiden. 10 and 17-minute tracks were the norm and the songs ran the gamut of the band's sounds making sure that every niche they could deliver was covered to maximum effort and fan exhilaration. As the years, albums and time drifted, the albums became more mature, more focused and more textured all culminating in the 2000 masterpiece Blackwater Park, a work of inspired song writing whose central themes dealt with the shadowing of time and moral decay. It was mournful but with a wealth of crunch, along with playing that their peers just wept at; Opeth had finally lapped the competition.
But a funny thing happened in the form of Steven Wilson (solo, Porcupine Tree), his production skills and influence during BWP has an immense effect on the band especially leader Mikael Akerfeldt and beginning with the next slew of albums including the trend shattering entirely acoustic foray with Damnation, the foundation was set for where Opeth was taking their high art. The clean baritone vocals were becoming more prominent (and ditched entirely after the Watershed album) and the playing become more focused as did the song structures focusing on economy and atmosphere over the kitchen sink method.
Opeth still hit it heavy but the vocals took away the death metal origins and gave the band a more polished rock approach thus furthering their desire to indulge their prog-rock leanings with Moogs, Mellotrons, percussive instruments and finally and embrace of influences ranging from CSN&Y to Radiohead to Dio/Rainbow. They retained their dark nature but added a more flavorful and appealing dynamic to the blackness. Their latest Sorceress veers back towards a heavier rock appeal than their previous two records; think of Sorceress as a Swedish metallic take on Santana's Abraxis. Opeth is making music for themselves that just happens to have a massive appeal though the detractors will say that they're not the same band they were. The worst thing an artist can do is creating for the audience to appease some sort of twisted allegiance when it should be the listener willing to join in for the journey.
This "new" pathway (10 years in the making) has led the band to an exhaustive touring schedule for the new album and Saturday night, the Swedish prog-metal stalwarts brought their Sorceress tour to Dallas. The audience was a hearty mix of pure breeds, new to the gamers and those looking to reconcile their indifference to the band. Opening to their usual entrance of Popol Vuh's "Through Pain In Heaven" they proceeded to begin the evening with the long rolling organ intro and bass throb of the title track to Sorceress, a wallop of post-modern metal guitars and a standard 4/4 beat but harnessed by the rolling fills of drummer Martin Axelrod before swiftly moving into one of the many surprises of the evening and one that delighted the fans of the older Opeth sound as "Ghost of Perdition" and its death metal howl and ever-shifting tempo changes made hundreds in front of the stage quite ecstatic.
Even more so was the follow-up "Demon of the Fall" which is a thunderous wall of pure exorcism possession that couples Akerfeldt's mighty roar with his well rounded and mature clean vocals (a heady mix of John Wetton and Greg Lake), the album from which the track came My Arms Your Hearse was the telltale point for the band as the line-up was solidified and it showed in the aggressive playing and confidence in their abilities.
"Demon" was a coalesce of all that record's merits spun into a barbed wire fist. Coming back to the modern, the second released track off of Sorceress "The Wilde Flowers" and it's oft-kilter rhythmic pattern and the exploits of keyboardist Joakim Svalberg (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen) made the track flourish and bloom as it were, and the track sways in and out between a rock thrower and a gentle breeze before ending in a blast beat crescendo. "Cusp of Eternity" with its Alice In Chains-lite sounds much more devious live than on record and showcased some scorching guitar work from Fredrik Akesson, while "The Devil's Orchard" is a mid-paced stomper that asked one declaration that Nietzsche himself would have governed, "God is dead".
Where Opeth really shine live has nothing to do with the music but with Akerfeldt's between song banter which is quick, off the cuff, dry at times and extremely likable, thus rendering the silliness of the death metal sect to a mere whimper. He's in on the joke and so are you. His presence, talent and humble humor make him a sterling front man, no matter the genre.
The lush "Will O The Wisp" from Sorceress is a feather lite acoustic composition that floats around the room but still retains a heavy motif to it highlighted by a rather mournful solo by Akesson, one that leads you from dusk right into the long night. The track that set the night afire was off of the ground breaking aforementioned Blackwater Park, "The Drapery Falls", a ten-minute plus garden of earthly delights opening with these massive melodic riffs that fade into acoustic pieces and back to the eerie slide notes all wound together by Akerfeldt's throaty vocals and large choruses before plunging into the depths of his deeply vexed death howl before heading in the home stretch of 5 minutes of those big, gnarly riffs again just non-stop, it was both intoxicating and anxiety ridden
"Hex Omega" completed the regular set with again, these larger than life riffs and sustains along with dual rolling floor toms. The midpoint solo is something Gilmour would have done for "Comfortably Numb" if had a darker demeanor while the end of the song are these never ending waves of square-jawed riffs just crashing down hard unto the floor.
And just because they have allowed themselves too, Opeth send them home with "Deliverance" their final knockout blow of the night with its lacerating opening into sublime center section and finally a roller-coaster of werewolves gnashing their teeth. The 8/8 pacing and riffs that brings the song to an end showed the brevity of the band as they can end stronger than they began.
Opeth are from a lineage of European death and power metal bands but they are their own thing, their own creation and certainly their own beast. They divide their audiences with each new release and are creatively heads above the fray. Live, they took those who dared on a journey, their journey, and from the reaction of the assembled they are ready for the next fork in the road.