Creating a great tour line up is equal parts art and science. Of course, because things cost money, thought has to be given to the relative draw of the bands chosen to participate. This is the science / business part of the equation. The art of line up selection relates the musical feng shui created by putting these bands in front of the same audience. Slapping together a line up that consists of popular, but completely musically unrelated acts is just going to piss people off. Maybe Dying Fetus and Mumford & Sons both draw really well in Akron, Ohio but asking Mum-fans to sit through “From Womb to Waste”, or asking Dying Fetus fans to sit through whatever tired shit Mumford & Sons are doing these days would be a rather tall order. Conversely, to uniform a line up, while a safer bet, can lead to boredom. Sure, I love me some d-beat, but by the time the eighth band is halfway through their completely un-nuanced take on Discharge, I’m looking for a taxi. Therefore I was intrigued when Bucketlist sent me down to Metropolis to see Opeth with supporting acts In Flames and Red Fang. Two Swedish mainstays and a relative American newcomer? Not only does this sound like a large percentage of the content I consume on the internet, but also like a hell of a line up for a metal show!
It had been a while since I’d taken in a concert at Metropolis, but it has always been my preferred spot to take in larger gigs – great sound, big stage, and the tiered flooring allows for a great view no matter how many ogres are standing in front of you.
First up were Portland, Oregon natives Red Fang. I’ve caught Red Fang on a few occasions when they’ve passed through Montreal and they’ve yet to disappoint. The group plays incredibly catchy, interesting, riff-driven stoner metal. No matter who the headlining act is, crowds seem to universally dig Red Fang. When I asked lead signer / bassist Aaron Beam about this, his explanation was that Red Fang’s music was “The right blend of smart and stupid” – enough straight ahead riffs for the habitual headbanger, but enough dollops of the weird and wonderful for us music nerds’ pants to tighten.
The band opened their short set with “Malverde”, the first song from 2011’s Murder on the Mountains, before launching into a trio of tracks from their newest record Whales and Leeches. Despite the incredibly heavy guitar tone, there is a great clarity to the riffage that allows the aforementioned interesting nuances to shine through. Outside of “Blood Like Cream”, it seems that a lot of the vocal work on the newer tracks is handled by rhythm guitarist Brain Giles whose baritone growl lends additional weight to the already corpulent proceedings. It was cool to see John Sherman’s drumkit set up on stage left without a riser. One would think this would hide him from view, but the guy sits high enough behind his kit, and strikes his drums with such animated, gleeful fury that you’d be hard pressed to ignore him even if his kit were positioned behind the merch table.
While the three guitarists remained relatively static, their periodic stage banter was organic and usually pretty funny. Giles dedicated second-to-last song “No Hope” to “his comedy career”.
The group finished off with “Prehistoric Dog”, one of the best tracks off of 2009’s self-titled LP. This stirred the already sizable crowd into a bit more action and allowed lead guitarist David Sullivan to demonstrate his sizable solo chops. A great end to a short-but-sweet set.
Next up were Swedish melo-death / metalcore vets In Flames. With twenty-four years of recording and touring under their belts, In Flames have garnered a global fanbase and have influenced numerous bands, most notably prominent metalcore acts such as As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage. In terms of music and musical progression, I will admit to being more of a fan of their earlier work, most notably 1998’s Whoracle, which placed more emphasis on progressive melodic double-guitar work and guttural vocals, while the newer material tends to focus on rhythmic attack and the typical clean and scream metalcore vocal trade-off.
My personal tastes aside, it was clear the crowd was stoked beyond imagination to see In Flames. From the moment the band’s seizure-inducing light show started (Old Man Comment: seriously, I felt like I was part of a fucking epilepsy experiment) till In Flames played their last note, Montreal fan’s lost their collective shit singing along to every word and filling a series of pits full of mosh. There is something really wonderful about seeing people in the crowd turn into a bunch of 3 year-olds opening Christmas presents each time the band announces the next song. I thought the dude in front of me was going to pee himself out of pure excitement.
The group started the set with “In Plain View”, a cut from their newest full length Siren Charms. Lead singer Anders Fridén was clearly moved and energized by the crowd’s passion and enthusiasm, using the length of the stage as a personal running track. The tunes that employed In Flames’ signature intricate guitar melodies were some of my favorite. Guitarists Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin deftly inject intricate melody into every song, lending a progressive element to even the most straight forward metalcore tunes.
Where In Flames really shine is in their longer compositions where Gelotte and Englin are given the space to let their considerable talent shine. The band also knows how to create an epic atmosphere of grandeur and uplift during their choruses, best evidenced on closing track “Take This Life”.
The parts of the In Flames catalog that adhere more closely to the contemporary metalcore playbook really aren’t terribly exciting – One could be forgiven for saying that In Flames sounds derivative of other work in the genre, however as one of the progenitors of the metalcore sound it makes sense their version of it can sound a tad basic at times. Also, is it just me, or does Anders Fridén kind of give off a Chester Bennington vibe? (Full Disclosure: In order to interview Red Fang’s Aaron Beam, I had to miss approx 20 mins of In Flames set during it’s middle section.)
Next it was time for the evening’s headlining act, Opeth, a band whose history shares a number of interesting touch points with tour mates In Flames; both bands hail from Sweden, were formed in 1990, and have drastically changed their sound over the course of their existence. In Opeth’s case their progression has seen them go full bore with the progressive, folky, atmospheric elements of their music that were once minor components of their early work, which was more in line with traditional Swedish death metal. The internet tells me that this transition has been a point of contention amoungst Opeth fandom, with some claiming that the latest Opeth record has strayed so far from their roots that it cannot be considered metal. Now, metal internet fandom can be divided into two camps; the first is comprised of Cheetos-dusted shut-ins whose version of rational discourse is incomplete without racial or homophobic epithets and whose Christmas wishlist includes “human skin to skin contact” (maybe next year, champ). This group, while entertaining, rarely contributes anything to the debate other than hilariously impotent invective and liberal amounts of drool. The second camp includes me, and those like me that don’t see change or progression as inherently bad. We also have the ability to breath through our nose, and hold eye contact with people we are sexually attracted to for more than 3 seconds. Could you argue that Opeth’s 2013 “Pale Communion” is not metal? Sure, depending on whatever arbitrary goalposts you use to define something as “metal” but that’s missing the point; the point is that this is some seriously awesome music.
To be completely honest, my knowledge of Opeth’s music prior to this concert with incredibly lacking. I’d heard some of their earlier mid-nineties stuff, but really had no idea what to expect. As the band took their positions, the stage was bathed in warm, multi-colored lights with projections of what appeared to be tarot cards or religious triptych art appearing on the back drop. The band then launched into “Eternal Rains Will Come” and then ” Cusp of Eternity”, the two first tracks from “Pale Communion”. Holy Hell! Opeth’s music is a beautiful, moving amalgamation of death/black metal and Eastern influenced folk music, progressive metal/fusion, and austere, gothic doom. While these tunes are certainly less discordant, they are no less heavy with the weight being provided by the heavily layered sound. Also, guitarist and lead singer Mikael Åkerfeldt’s voice should be registered as some sort of sexy weapon. The guy’s range is truly incredible, and while the majority of the set saw him keeping it clean, a few tunes let him bring a touch of the old school brutal. His talking voice is the kind of thing that I believe could undo a pants button from fifty yards out.
Opeth’s seven-song, hour-plus set was comprised of material released after 2000, including extended versions of tracks like “The Drapery Falls” and “The Moor”, which the band followed up with a short rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. While the band took very few breaks, Åkerfeldt addressed the crowd a few times to joke about the cold and how his band comes from “the superior hockey nation of Sweden”, which drew hearty laughs and well intentioned booing.
The group finished their set with the title track from 2002’s “Deliverance”, a 13 minute epic that was both haunting, progressive and heavy as fuck. While Opeth’s music was certainly not as up-tempo as In Flames, the crowd was no less enthusiastic. The calls for encore lasted well after the last note, but I think the band could be forgiven for finishing up after playing such a long track.
I spent much of the early part of this review talking about line ups and the value of proper curation. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this particular grab bag, but this show really had something for everyone. Well, at the very least, it had a variety of things for me; an old favorite in Red Fang, a new discovery in Opeth, and while I’m not the world’s biggest In Flames fan, it’s always a joy to see a crowd go completely batshit for a band and to see that band appreciate that fervor and bring their “A” game.
Until next time, friends and readers! Remember, try to brush off those Cheetos from time to time.
An interview with Aaron Beam of Red Fang:
Written by Jesse Gainer
Photography by Eric Brisson Eric Brisson Photography