So, I grabbed the girlfriend and wandered on down to check out Opeth and Enslaved at the Starland Ballroom. Admittedly, I was more interested in seeing Enslaved at this show than Opeth due to my fear of Opeth "Watershedding" their set-list, a fear proven with the inclusion of Heir Apparent, Lotus Eater and the ungodly Hessian Peel which must be the most boring song I've ever heard. Throw in Ghosts of Perdition after Heir Apparent and basically half the set-list was new material. For me and the girlfriend - as longtime a fan as myself - a very upsetting revelation. Enslaved, after major sound problems during the first two tracks, To the Coast and Fusion of Sense and Earth, got their sound fixed for the rest of their set though, to my ears, the engineers were trying to fix their sound throughout their stage time. They suffered from a muffled sound with the bass and drums mixed too high and the guitars too low. I was impressed though with their style which I thought was a good pairing with Opeth, especially tracks like The Watcher and Ground. I was not familiar with most of their material though after the show I did feel a desire to delve into their back catalog. Vocally I thought they were fantastic. It was hard to distinguish some of the vocal harmonies however the black metal vocals were vicious and sharp. I will definitely be going to catch Enslaved next time around and I expect that I will be familiar with their material by then also.
For Opeth, I was scared while still waiting in the parking lot. When I go to a metal concert and see groups of blond girls in flowing dresses trying to cut me in line, I immediately want to beat them with their own flip flops. I am not a judgmental person but I know their type - the girls who love Damnation and expect them to play nothing but Windowpane and To Rid The Disease for two hours. Secondly, I saw roughly thirty people in Dream Theater shirts or tour shirts from the last shows Opeth played with Dream Theater. "But how is this foreshadowing?" You ask. I absolutely love going to see bands and having my theories proven true. In fact, I enjoy going to shows these days just to observe the audiences as much as see the bands. In the case of seeing Opeth for the first time after releasing both Ghost Reveries and Watershed, my predictions as to the change in their marketing strategies and set-list tactics prove my fear that Opeth and Dream Theater are secretly trying to steal each other's audiences. Now, I expect to get massive hatemail/male from the Dreamfags and Gaypeth fangirls so let me explain. Anyone with an ear can delineate the change in style from Blackwater Park onwards from their earlier material, notably My Arms, Your Hearse and Morningrise. Gone are the subtle black metal melodies, and flowing melodic structures influenced from the Gothenburg scene and second wave black metal bands. Replacing this are progressive rhythmic structures and awkward transitions (the main problem I have with Ghost Reveries and Watershed) similar to the style Dream Theater use - you know them, the incredibly technical guitar fills and moronic keyboard transitions. Also, Dream Theaters use of *gasp* blast beats on their new album is a sign of Dream Theater attempting to sink their hand into the Opeth cookie jar.
Opeth's decision to tour with Dream Theater was a conscious move to gain that audience - an audience they knew would take to their more modern material. The porcupine tree connection is also a factor here. This audience is more interested in the musicianship and progressive metal aspects Opeth employed on Ghost Reveries and Watershed and to a lesser extent on Deliverance and Blackwater Park*. Of course, this is a generalization however the amount of reaction to the Watershed tracks at this show and the number of people wearing Dream Theater and progressive metal shirts does support this. Hell, I saw four people talking to each other all wearing the same Dream Theater tour shirt. Also, only Dreamfags would create a circle pit during the kiddie music section or in my girlfriend's words, "It sounds like a Circus"-section in Lotus Eater. The "push" forward when Opeth took stage was another warning that Opeth had reached superstar status. This "Push" is a phenomenon I just will never understand. It only happens at shows where there are incredible amounts of newly indoctrinated fans. Where the fuck do you people think you are going to get to? Seriously? Why must you push forward to be as close as possible to the inside of Mikael's rectum? You will hear the same thing anywhere in the venue with the exception of the bar in the back which tends to become subject to "treble-drop." This kind of reaction to a band taking the stage is, above all, a sign that a band has become a "ticket" band. Opeth have become a gateway band much like Metallica, Dream Theater and Iron Maiden. Some people will never pass through the door, most will drop out and a few will move through and come to the realization that no band is worth shoving your cock into someone else's dirty ass for. In the case of girls, these numbers become even more exaggerated. Ninety-eight percent will fall into the "trendy" category and two percent will actually like the music and move on to better things.
ANYWAY. Other than having, in my opinion a shitty set-list, Opeth were excellent musically speaking. Mikael was, as always, humorous with a keen attention to localities, talking in depth about Bon Jovi and Skid Row. I was hoping for a cover of "Youth Gone Wild" but this never came to fruition. The inclusion of Godhead's Lament was really awesome. Last time I saw them they played Face of Melinda so now, I just need to hear Moonlapse Vertigo and The Moor before saying they have played all my favorite tracks from Still Life. Leper Affinity was also particularly brutal. The extended version of Closure was also trippy, especially when mixed with some psychedelic lighting, though after Credence (a song I adore) and Hessian Peel, I was ready for something blistering. I have to give massive credit to Mendez. He has always been one of the driving factors of the band for me, his playing is fluid, legible and his tone is gargantuan. Live, he is even better than on record. He provides the gravy to the potatoes. As Mikael talked about some Swedish jazz everyone in the audience should hear (but won't take the time to explore) Martin tossed in the beginning of what I believe was Visa Fran Utanymra** which was even more impressive. Definitely on my list as best bassists in every sense of the word. Frederik also did a sweet guitar solo and gave the impression of being a great addition to the band. I still miss Lindgren though.
Overall, I would admit that Opeth were fantastic, with a severely weak set-list. Not a single of the heavier tracks off My Arms Your Hearse showed themselves. I would have killed the flowy hippie sluts to see April Ethereal and would have taken out the rest of the audience to see Advent. Hell, even Demon of the Fall, a staple in their set would have been fantastic after so many newer tracks. Ultimately though, you can only get what the band gives. For me, they gave a great show though a bit too much laid back material and not enough of the metal. On to Pagan Fest!
To the Coast
Fusion of Sense and Earth
As Fire Swept Clean the Earth
Ghosts of Perdition
The Leper Affinity
The Night and the Silent Water
*Blackwater Park was always a logical progression from Still Life in my opinion. The transitions on this album are still strong. The melodies are still in the style of their earlier releases and the ratio of death metal to their Camel influenced sections is still roughly fifty-fifty. Though I do feel that they lost the grandeur of Morningrise and My Arms by this point the album still touches on some of the regal feel of Still Life. Ultimately this was the last album that presented any of this vibe and in my opinion was the final true Opeth album.
**Visa Fran Utanymra is a track by Swedish jazz pianist Jan Johansson off "Jazz pa svenska" (Jazz In Swedish). He is the father of Anders Johansson and Jens Johannson. Anders has played drums with Malmsteen and Hammerfall. Jens Johansson has played keyboards in Stratovarius and with Yngwie also.