Friday, September 30, 2011

Opeth's folk metal assault rains down on Cannery Ballroom

Mikael Akerfeldt sang that God is dead. But it's not true. God was on the stage.

When Opeth swept into Cannery Ballroom Wednesday night, it's fair to say they carried the crowd into a rapture with them.

The titans of prog metal kicked off the show with their latest single, "The Devil's Orchard," and with the eerie wash of blue lights enveloping the crowd, it wasn't hard to feel like you were being transported somewhere otherworldly.

Who's ready for some metal? This guy fuckin' is!

Their latest album, Heritage, puts major distance between the band and their black/death metal roots, and the live act seems to be following the same philosophy. The 12 song setlist focused on Opeth's lighter, folkier side.

Heritage and Watershed, the two most recent Opeth albums, formed a good chunk of the setlist, with tunes like "I Feel The Dark" and "Porcelain Heart" getting the crowd revved up early. But one of the biggest surprises of the night was when the band totally folked out with a mini-acoustic set, in which Akerfeldt played no fewer than three separate acoustic guitars. And it was punctuated with a pair of lesser known cuts - "Throat of Winter" from the God of War III soundtrack and "Patterns in the Ivy II" from the deluxe edition of 2001's Blackwater Park.

But of course, Opeth  wouldn't be Opeth if they didn't unleash some heavy metal. Akerfeldt introduced "Slither" by announcing it was written in memory of Ronnie James Dio, and it was inspired by his work in Rainbow.

"Now you can all headbang like it's 1978," Akerfeldt declared.

As soon as he began ripping off those riffs, the moshers went apeshit.

Opeth's old guard: Akerfeldt and Mendez.

And as an added treat, Opeth also played one of the best songs in their catalog -- "A Fair Judgement." A flawless combination of ethereal metal, 70s proggy acoustic folk, and majestic guitar solos, hearing this song live was an experience that was on my bucket list. I was totally pumped to cross that one off.

Akerfeldt also proved himself to be a great frontman with an awesome sense of showmanship. The performer/crowd interaction was the best I've ever witnessed. He hilariously ripped on metal bands who constantly down tune their guitars, made fun of Napalm Death's "You Suffer," and bantered over the pros and cons of eating ribs in Nashville.

And last but not least, I can't leave out the incredible drum solo by Martin Axenrot. The rest of the band stopped for about five minutes to let Martin do this thing, which resulted in an incredible display of precision as he kept perfect time while roaring away with the double bass pedals.

If there was one disappointment, it was with the lack of Mikael's death metal vocals. I don't mind them dropping that on the records, but to ditch them at live shows means some of the band's biggest concert staples get dropped from the setlist.  Songs like "The Leper Affinity," "Master's Apprentices," and "The Grand Conjuration" are a major part of Opeth's identity. If those songs are never played again, then it's like they're not even the same band they once were.

Fellow Swedish metallers Katatonia were the openers, and they were no slouch either. Their captivating blend of gothic and doom inspired metal held the crowd spellbound.  Jonas Renske's hypnotic vocals melded seamlessly with Daniel Liljekvist's lightning fast crossovers and wicked tom work, and the crushing guitar assault of Per Eriksson and Anders Nystrom completed the package. Katatonia pulled out a few sweet numbers, including "Leaders" and "My Twin," which were instant hits with the crowd.

Katatonia are not a force to be trifled with.

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