Opeth does not retire. Instead, they invent a genre and continue touring as status quo. Opeth front man Akerfeldt and lead guitarist Fredrik Akesson were the driving forces behind Heritage, the band’s tenth studio album which features an original mix of progressive metal, jazz fusion and Swedish folk. The band was ready to momentarily depart the death metal scene and brave the crowds of their die-hard metal fans.
The Center Stage was an interesting venue choice for Opeth, as normally their popularity normally allows them to sell out at venues like Gwinnett Arena. In front of an audience of only one thousand, they played their first death-growl free set list.
First on stage was Katatonia, a Swedish doom metal band, whose powerful sound and melancholy chords captivated the audience. Their sound quality left something to be desired, the lead guitars being drowned out by the drums and bass.
Following Katatonia’s departure and a 45-minute intermission the lights dimmed and the crowd roared. The pit was alive with energy when Akerfeldt took the stage with constant screams and shouting. Wasting no time at all, the band kicked off into “The Devil’s Orchard,” their single from Heritage.
The next two songs were also off the most recent album. In between songs, Akerfeldt, like a true showman, entertained the audience with jokes and casual conversation. He recanted stories of his children and playing badminton; a very unusual onstage personality for the proclaimed “master” of progressive death metal. The set flowed smoothly as the band’s new, warmer and “folksy” sound with less guitar distortion generated a more subtle and laid back atmosphere than previous concerts.
It was Akerfeldt’s idea to play all the slow and non-growl songs on this tour as reflected by the new direction the band took since their album Damnation. Most of the songs were calm and reflective like “Hex Omega” and “Face of Melinda,” while some were completely acoustic like “Credence.”
Despite the lack of aggressive metal songs the performance electrified the air and saturated the concert hall with pungent progressive rock grooves. The sound quality and mixing exceeded expectation to produce one of the most technically flawless concerts. Opeth’s musical ability and proficiency gave the crowd a top notch musical performance, nearly identical to studio album quality.
However, there were some hecklers and disappointed metal fans who expected guitar shredding, mosh pits and heavy distortion, intense and aggressive pieces for which Opeth is famous. In between each song they yelled for more popular songs like “Ghosts of Perdition” and the concert staple “Deliverance,” to which Akerfeldt responded, “yes, but the set list is the only security I have.” Most of concert attendees had expected an Opeth show similar to their experience on the Blackwater tour, but the band’s direction led elsewhere. Conflicting accounts from band members give no clear indication of what the future will be, and there has been no announcement yet of another album.
Regardless of the style of music, Opeth gave a masterful performance. Any music they play, they play well, extremely well. Perhaps the pinnacle of the concert was during “Porcelain Heart,” the single from the last album. The entire floor jumped in unison and screamed wildly during the guitar solo; it was a song both new and old listeners could appreciate.
Much to the chagrin of the die-hard conservative metal fans, Opeth will continue to reinvent themselves over every album and concert tour. Beginning from their first album they have never stopped redefining what death metal can be, and they probably never will.