The opulent Town Hall housed a different kind of “high” culture on this Thursday than the venue’s usual beret and Guatemalan print-wearin’ world and classical music baby boomers. The night’s strange attendees from alien lands were primarily bridge-and-tunneling 16 to 30-year-olds, clad in black and—even odder, given the metalus extremus species they spawn from—completely well-behaved. For over two and a half hours, the sold-out, seated theater became a mosh-free standing-room-only Opera House of Death Metal.
“Who are we”? asked Opeth guitarist-vocalist Mikael
Åkerfeldt boastfully, like an emperor overseeing a Colosseum blood sport. “OPETHHHHH!!” roarrred back his loyalist fandom through the small balconied hall immediately after the band finished its first flawlessly executed number. Focusing on obscure and never-before-performed-live jams, they called this career retrospective set “Chronology MCMXCIV-MMV”; it’s only being performed in two other cities during this U.S. tour. With lots of in-between-songs heckling (“Play ‘Shout at the Devil’ “) followed by quick responses (“That song is shit!”) and fan photo op time-outs, the band was relaxed and focused, but didn’t get animated ’til the more refined and condensed material from Still Life through the recent Ghost Reveries.
True cult metallurgists—the type who only wear T-shirts with indecipherable band logos, plus freak flags uncut since high school—debate whether these Swedish aggro prog-rock fetishists are really “death.” After all, the band’s benevolent dictator—the amiable, dry-witted
Åkerfeldt to counter his Hades-channeling grunts with silky, crystal clear, (or “clean,” as it’s known) singing. And just as often as his band wallops with numbers-crunching, rapid-fire guitar chugs, they send you chasing after rings of smoke through the trees via lush, folky dreamscapes perfectly befitting a band named after a sci-fi moon city.
Considering the mass testosterone, a surprising number of ladies were present—including an all-female opener, Ballet Deviare, an NYC dance troupe who pirouette to extreme-metal tuneage. (They fouettéd it to “Deliverance,” played later by the band with Mikael prodding, “If you don’t know this one, you’re retarded.”) All the feminine energy made perfect sense considering Opeth’s epic, 10-minute-plus, introspective-teenager-alone-in-room-with-fantasy-novel, 2112-cum–Roger Dean landscapes. Wafts of weed and the jumbo-screen backdrop of gothic forest imagery kept the night entrenched in ’70s prog-rock déjà vu more than modern metal freakout . . . just updated for Generation PlayStation.