April 19, 2012
The Palladium Ballroom
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Wayne Posner
Opeth - Opeth, Mastodon, Ghost
The combined talents of Opeth, Mastodon and Ghost, by anyone's estimation, should go down as the "tour event of the year." This three 'prog' metal attack brought forth the best of Swedish and American rock for the 21st century. When you mix in a bit of the occult inspired rock sounds of the early 70's, you have a mesmerizing mixture of sight and sound by three acts that will be remembered for quite some time by those brave enough to attend.
Without a doubt, this package of talent was one of the more engaging concerts to hit the road in quite some time. When it was all said and done, there was little doubt left that Swedish rock sensation Opeth is a force to be reckoned with. They are beyond the realms of just being talented. That said, Mastodon isn't more progressive, they are just punishing with their sound. And then there's Ghost. Sans the schlock, this band delivers the kind of bare bones rock barrage that helped make Alice Cooper and Blue Oyster Cult FM radio staples in the '70s.
Dallas's Palladium Ballroom proved to be the perfect host for this event. It had a spacious stage to contain all the bands' visuals, a sound system developed by a former Iron Maiden monitor lead, and enough room to find your own vibe. An estimated crowd of just over 1000 hearty souls may seem a bit light considering the talent assembled, but you have to understand these bands are niche. Those gathered this evening were purveyors themselves of the "left of center "mentality that has crept into metal recently. These three acts proved to be a perfect marriage of visual delight and auditory overload that was going to grab a hold of the audience and not let go. This crowd knew perfectly well what was about to happen to them. Throughout the night, they would revel in all the pure progressive glory Opeth, Mastodon and Ghost presented them.
The prog parade began when Ghost slowly took the stage to the strains of "The Masked Ball". The procession of Nameless Ghouls, the druid like band members in their guardian robes, gathered solemnly to await the entrance of Papa Emeritus. When the pope-like lead singer of Ghost, resplendent in his corpse mask and dilated white eyes, finally appeared, the audience went wild. The sermon like beginning was quickly shattered when the band barged straight into "Con Clavi Con Dio", a bombastic Latin satanic verse. References to Mercyful Fate and early Blue Oyster Cult aside, Ghost is an 'exorcise' in precise playing. Yeah the power chords may be rather simplistic in nature, but they bring to life Emeritus' voice, which is full of melody and thrill, albeit a Satanist with an angel's tenor.
The biting riff on "Elizabeth" is as startling as the song's topic of Bathory, the Blood Countess. The between song chatter of Emeritus is one-part Bela Lugosi, one-part huckster. But it's the songs that Ghost delivers, and their presentation, that captivated the crowd in the Palladium. "Prime Mover" is their heaviest track to date, which incidentally harkens to the 1970's terms of 'heaviness' as opposed to today's lighter standards. The vigor might be up, but the melody is retained.
Ghost is by no means a death or black metal band. It's merely a heavy rocking Swedish band with occult leanings, similar in vein to Cathedral, Devil's Blood and Witchcraft than say Watain. Their six-song set ends with the track that got them on the map, "Ritual". This harmonious peon to blood sacrifice has Papa's voice sounding more human that demon. And with that, the five ghouls and their master leave the stage to the slow churn of the Dead Can Dance's "The Host of Seraphim". Ghost is making quite an impression on this tour. In order to maintain the momentum, hopefully there will be a new album this fall of the 'Devil's work.'
Co-headliners Mastodon (they and Opeth flip every other week) took a step back with 2011's The Hunter to go back to a more basic sound, as opposed to trying to top 2009's Crack the Skye, a completely progressive metal masterpiece. With The Hunter, tracks were shortened and tightened up with an emphasis put on quantity. With a stack of customized Orange Amp stacks and a simple album artwork backdrop, the band kicked into "Black Tongue" with its two-fisted riff. What the band may have lacked in stage dressing they more than made up for in strobes, lasers and arena-sized lighting.
Streams of LED power flooded the ballroom as the band tore into the rarely played "Hand of Stone" and "Crystal Skull" off of Blood Mountain. Riffs and solos poured out of the band. What Mastodon may lack in quality vocals a lot of the time (the voices sounded strained) they more than make up for it with a furious guitar onslaught led by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher. The boulder-sized rhythms these two produced were accompanied by one of today's most propulsive drummers, Brann Dailor, a sort of Carl Palmer with a furious streak. "Blasteroid", "Stargasm" and "All the Heavy Lifting" further showcased the streamlined power of the band's latest material. Gone is the 14-minute journey of "Last Baron". In its place was the more streamlined five-minute title track 'The Hunter". This moody piece still has the twists and turns the band is known for, however, they've peeled away the novel from the music to reveal only the Cliff Notes.
Powering thru two gems from their first foray into the progressive movement, "Aqua Dementia" and the chaotic "Blood and Thunder", it's really the closing salvo of "The Sparrow", and it's homage to Pink Floyd's "Hey You", that draws the loudest responses from the crowd. It leads one to believe that the people preferred the churning progressive Mastodon of today to the blistering pummel of previous records. Whatever the case, there is something that all those tours with Slayer may have taught Mastodon - never let your audience breathe for one moment.
Opeth took the stage and dove headlong into the progressive ocean. Their latest gift of music, Heritage, took all the bite out of their 'death metal cum progressive' past'. Instead, the music took on a Camel, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Jethro Tull feel to it. Gone is the forest clearing 'death vocals' of singer Mikael Akerfeldt. He's now opted to showcase his distinctive range closer to that of Greg Lake and John Wetton rather than Ihsahn. The stage was adorned with the famed ornate "O" logo over the amp covers. Four draped banners hung from the lighting rig that worked as both video screens and decor.
The band started the proceedings with "The Devil's Orchard". It's one of the three heavy statements on Heritage. A run through of "I Feel the Dark" and "Burden" may have left longtime fans yearning for a bit of yesterday's roar. However, that didn't stop the faithful from cheering as the acoustic strains of "Windowpane" filtered through the amps. Mellow or not, melodic or not, there is always darkness even in Opeth's lightest moments.
The rarely played "Lines in My Hand", another swift hard rocker from Heritage, was a highlight. In homage to the late Ronnie James Dio, Akerfeldt and Opeth constructed "Slither", an admitted straight rip-off of the Rainbow classic "Kill the King". As lead guitarist Fredrik Akeeson did his best Richie Blackmore, images of the sorely missed singer, including the famed "horned hand", flashed across the banners. Drummer extraordinaire Martin Axelrod was all Bill Bruford with his fills and windmill hair. The band ended their set with "Folklore", as the familiar blue and yellow Swedish flags engulfed the stage from the screens above. The song went from gypsy camp song into full-fledged Zeppelin rocker, ala "Carouselambra".
This was a fitting end to a set derived from the band's full-fledged foray into adult progressive. However for the encore, knowing full well that Mastodon delivered a full set of 'foot on the gas' material, Opeth was wise enough to come back and deliver the goods. The familiar riffs to the classic, "Demon of the Fall," came charging out of the amps. You could see the relief on the faces of the fans as Akerfeldt emitted his signature death growl, still the best in the game. The vulture-like rhythms circled overhead as Akerfeldt and Akeeson were in lock step as dark and forceful magic was blowing heads off. And if that weren't enough, 2005's Ghost Reveries killer, "The Grand Conjugation", became a 21-minute thrill ride of death metal, retro rock riffs and Hammond organ chaos (courtesy of newest member Joakim Svalberg, formally of Yngwie Malmsteen).
The epic track kept seamlessly weaving from one segment to another. It was an extraordinary example of the band's musical ability and prowess. It took all of 10-minutes into this show closer to dismantle all that the two previous acts had spent the evening building up. No disrespect to Ghost or Mastodon, but in this venue, on this night, Opeth showed that it is heads and shoulders above the fray in the progressive hard rock genre - Tool and Dream Theater be damned.