Sweden's Opeth are one of the most celebrated "progressive" metal bands around, and certainly one of the most unique with their unusual mix of folksy, acoustic passages juxtaposed with deep, guttural vocals and rapidly thrashing precise speed metal, with tinges of progressive keyboards. They command sonic textures and wrap up the delicate and quiet with the brilliant and intricate playing that goes from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye.
Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt played guitar, as did new member Fredrik Åkesson, formerly of Arch Enemy; Martin Axenrot ( who I thought looked like one of the elves from the Lord Of The Rings films) played drums, Martin Mendez was on bass; and Per Wiberg was on keyboards.
Åkerfeldt joked that Sweden is known for having the greatest hockey players, which elicited moans from the jovial audience. He spoke about spending some time walking through Osborne Village, a popular bohemian shopping district in Winnipeg, and how the only thing Sweden has going for it anymore, since they have no good bands, are girls who like to wear very little clothing in the summer. He's quite funny.
Towards the end of the show, Åkerfeldt began to ask for requests from the fans. Finally, he asked that everyone be quiet so that some woman near the front could offer her song request. He responded by saying that they already played it and fielded more requests. Finally, he played a couple minutes of the next few requests, sometimes having to stop because they couldn't remember the song. Opeth's music is among the most complex metal that I've ever heard. As such, it's also not easy to digest in one listen. Their songs are more epic in nature than catchy and anthemic. If you only caught a few snippets, you might think they were all about beautiful folk guitar, or manically rabid death metal. They are one of those bands you have to listen to over and over in order to really absorb their diverse musical ideas.
I know I witnessed what some would describe as the next evolution of heavy metal in Opeth. They are very different but they are also musically interesting. Their current album, 2008's Watershed, hit #32 on the Billboard top 200 in the US, # 7 in Australia and # 1 in Finland, and their 2003 DVD went gold in Canada. I thought the DVD was an excellent introduction to the band. Opeth are definitely not for everyone, but if you're looking for something quite a bit different, check them out, especially live.
The Grand Conjuration
Serenity Painted Death
The Lotus Eater
The Night and the Silent Water
Demon of the Fall
Encore: The Drapery Falls
Oakland, California's High On Fire, a power metal trio, opened the show, and in the absence of an expected second opening act, played a longer set than normal, about an hour.
I had listened to a few of their tracks months ago, but wasn't overly taken by them. Live, however, they absolutely killed. The sonic assault they presented was very satisfying and created the illusion of cautionary tales of nomadic warriors raping, pillaging, killing, stealing, and drinking as they roamed and terrorized the countryside. I have no idea if this is what they really sing about, but I couldn't make out the cookie monster vocals at all. Was he asking for cookies or trying to conjure up Satan? I don't know.
Despite being a trio, this guys never left me wishing for a second guitarist. There was just a bit more talent in these guys than I have seen in many other similar bands, enough to make we wish I get a chance to see them play again. Drummer Des Kesnel was extraordinary, powerful yet inventive. Shirtless front man and guitarist Matt Pike might actually be able to bring the band to newer heights if he would try singing more than screaming, but even with indecipherable vocals, he was still a magnetic presence. They have some Motorhead in their DNA but unlike many bands influenced by Lemmy and company., these guys are definitely a cut above the rest.