Opeth | 10.06.08 | San Francisco

By: Dennis Cook

Opeth & High On Fire :: 10.06.08 :: The Grand :: San Francisco, CA

Mikael Åkerfeldt - Opeth by Daniel Falk
Opeth is THE metal band for the jam scene. If you read no further then at least you won't be able to say you weren't warned. In terms of nosebleed level technical skill, unremittingly sturdy songwriting, fiery dynamics, varied setlists, wide ranging moods and plain ol' charisma, Opeth are one of the best units going today, in any genre, and while they might be filed under 'Metal' in the record store their brand of heavy music is so intercut with downright pretty sections and gorgeous soloing that anyone with an appetite for diverse, intense rock could likely find much to love.

Walking into The Grand Ballroom, through a sea of black t-shirts emblazoned with flaming skulls, upended graves and all manner of wildly calligraphic logos, one felt opener High On Fire well before entering the musty, decidedly human air inside the auditorium. Gone are any vestiges of leader-guitarist-singer Matt Pike's seminal sludge rockers Sleep, replaced by Motorhead thud and a boogie boner you can spot a mile away. For something that slaps one around so thoroughly, High On Fire are a good time, kinda like rough sex with consenting adults that don't mind a few dings for their troubles. Based on the grousing around me, for some in attendance, the trio – filled out by bassist Jeff Matz (Zeke, Holy Terror) and drummer/co-founder Des Kensel - nailed too many balls to the walls. They were a sharp contrast to the headliners, who truck in complex, shifting compositions punctuated by but not always driven by heaviness. High On Fire, on the other hand, slams one against a flat surface and rifles through your folds a bit.

Matt Pike - High On Fire :: By Taija Lynn
Pike plays with all-out guitar heroics, real foot-on-amp, reaching for the sky glory roadin', and he's pumped up by Matz's blindingly fast bass licks and Kensel's double kick drum attack. What made the assault even better were the pauses and well placed stops that left one hanging in the air like Wylie Coyote without an Acme jet pack. Sickening dives were salvaged at the last moment by guitar upswing but only when our nose was millimeters from smashing the ground. That's some tension control! Pike's barrel-chested growl was just another blunt instrument they swung at the packed crowd, a weapon in an arsenal full of brutish, spit soaked tools for getting the job done. Shirtless and punching the air, Pike brought their short set to a close and it was easy to join him in waving one's fist in salute. Quality hard stuff in an era of watered down offerings.

The last time I'd been at the Grand was for Return To Forever (see review here) and it wasn't long into Opeth's set that I found myself thinking that there was WAY more in common between that venerable group of jazz top notches and the Swedish rock quintet than one might think. Both share a high-minded approach to their genre that refuses other's definitions of what they do and forges new pathways for the music to flow into. Both feature fantastic musicianship and thoughtful compositions, and both feed heavily upon the audience's reaction to their work. For all of metal's supposed meanness, Opeth is incredibly personable, especially bandleader Mikael Åkerfeldt (vocals, guitar), who chatted amiably between songs and actively engaged hecklers (few) and overly exuberant fans (many) with humor and talk show dexterity.

At one point early on, the opening line from Scott McKenzie's iconic "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)" could be heard coming from the stage which quickly segued into Åkerfeldt addressing the crowd directly: "Hello! Some of you may have the pleasure of seeing my ass crack tonight. We are Opeth from Sweden and we are going to have a good time."

Each Opeth album is part of a larger geography, a new kingdom discovered in a land they've been mapping out since 1995's debut, Orchid. Each has the detail and romance of a Dungeons and Dragons supplement but little of the fruity mysticism and devil baiting silliness that infects most metal. Instead, Åkerfeldt has injected maturity and emotional richness into a field not known for either. Their newest release, 2008's grand Watershed, provided the backbone of the show, giving them ample opportunities to show off their chops in loud and soft ways. As Åkerfeldt pointed out, there are what some might call "pussy moments" in their music – full blown, highly sincere slow tunes and positively goopy instrumental sections – but each part was played with such heart and conviction that it all worked. Brilliantly. Their lack of preconceptions, their unwillingness to be straight-jacketed by metal's name and rep, meant a flowering of their sound that bested any performance I've seen them give in the past ten years.

Mikael Åkerfeldt - Opeth by Daniel Falk
When Åkerfeldt or relatively new guitarist Fredrik Åkesson took off I had a hard time imagining some kid into Umphrey's McGee or even the Derek Trucks Band not losing their shit over Opeth. There's real love of superhuman skill and hyper passionate playing here, and that could translate VERY well to folks who've ended up in the cul de sac de jam, wondering what else is out there. Talking with people outside during a small break, I found TV On The Radio and White Stripes fans as well as the predictable Metallica and Testament enthusiasts. Listen past the scream vocals on some pieces, be patient during the sonic avalanches and you'd soon find Åkerfeldt actually has a melodious singing voice and inviting guitar style that both – and I shit you not – reminded me of vintage Peter Frampton. Anyone who's really spent time with Frampton Comes Alive, old Humble Pie records or even Pete's early solo albums will know what a massive compliment this is.

Opeth is rounded out by Martin Mendez (bass), Per Wiberg (keys) and Martin Axenrot (drums), and they truly play as a whole, letting solos rise as they served the music but never in acts of pure show or ego. They grapple their big ideas together, and watching them live convinced me that this is perhaps the finest lineup Opeth has ever had. Some purists may argue this point, still attached to longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren, who left the band in 2007, but, put simply, Åkesson is a far more richly varied and incisive guitarist, and his stamp on older material poured fresh blood into them all night.

"We've done a few miserable songs and quite a few ballads," said Åkerfeldt. "We're going to do a ballad from the Damnation record [2003]. It's a song we've neglected for many years and it's called 'Hope Leaves.'"

With that, Opeth launched with gravity defying force into what was a four-minute and change album cut and stretched it into a minor epic packed with beautiful touches, many of them from Åkesson and keyboardist Wiberg, who swung his head around like Dethklok's Nathan Explosion for more than two hours. And so it went until the fat lady sang – songs pumped up or focused in as fit their mood, landscapes traversed with great confidence and power. If I speak in generalities forgive me. It's hard to wrap the mind around something so fully formed, so utterly itself, so completely well executed. After this concert I consider Opeth a not-to-be-missed act, an experience and not just another show. Now you really can't say nobody told you.

Here's live staple "Bleak" from the Roundhouse in London in 2006

Opeth is currently on tour in North America. Dates can be found here

JamBase | San Francisco
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[Published on: 10/14/08]

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durazno Tue 10/14/2008 06:06PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


It's sad thing that nobody has commented on this. Opeth is a great band

ChrisAre9 Tue 10/14/2008 06:37PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Juan, some people just got their tye-dye too tight......Opeth is dope..

dsawthestone Tue 10/14/2008 08:22PM
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"unremittingly sturdy songwriting"

You mean to tell me people can understand what that dude is screaming?

Flat5 starstarstarstar Tue 10/14/2008 09:11PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Thanks Jambase for turning me on to new things! I've never heard of these guys before, Ill have to check em out.

sk8er4ever0101 starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/14/2008 09:36PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

opeth is pretty damn good, if people knew them there would be A MILLION "haters" because of the style of music as compared to what jambase also covers

iAMuANDwhatIseeISme starstarstarstarstar Tue 10/14/2008 11:17PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


that video is badass. aside from the screaming parts, it's totally not your cliche metal. i mean, the bass player is playing a fucking marcus miller bass. if thats typical for metal, then ella fitzgerald makes ozzy osbourne look like a pussy....

bigchris starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/15/2008 12:39AM
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cool review. These guys are pretty musical for the heavy style they play and put on an entertaining show.

Henrock starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/15/2008 01:50AM
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i'm surprised jambase is covering this but i'm very happy about it, Opeth are one of my favorite groups and so are High on Fire. Opeth are fuckin brilliant and I advise anyone who hasn't heard them to check them out now!

toestothenose starstarstarstarstar Wed 10/15/2008 06:35AM
+4 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Cook - cool piece man - I had heard little smatterings around the city about these guys but had yet to delve into them. Opeth sounds pretty amazing and remind me of Philly's Doom Jazz masters Stinking Lizaveta


Deadphishbiscuits Wed 10/15/2008 07:11AM
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great article. and ill haved to agree with henrock if you havent heard these guys definatly give them a listen. you and your ears will not be disapointed. definatly a band i want to see live and hopefully will get to one of these days

drbell Wed 10/15/2008 08:15AM
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whatever. i was a huge metalhead and still go to metal shows but opeth is so blah. and definitely not "jammy" at all. yeah their music is intricite but it's boring. sooo drawn out with the same prodding riff for 3 minutes straight. first saw them live about 8 years ago with nevermore and it did not do it for me. i do like jambase branching out though.

JERRYmadeLIVEmusic Wed 10/15/2008 08:46AM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
gmoo Wed 10/15/2008 10:05AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Listen to Opeth.

iAMuANDwhatIseeISme Wed 10/15/2008 10:20AM
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gr8fulyonderpanic, you dont sound very peaceful, loving, or like you have ever expanded you mind. its people like you who create derision between "scenes" and cause dirty talk back and fourth between music lovers only seperated by a label and maybe some clothing choices. if i took off my clothes and my hemp i would look like half the metal heads in the world: dirty with hair down to my ass. the same can be said for any other "hippie" (which is an entirely irrelevant concept and label now). your the kind of person that starts fights in lots when there are two shows next to each other and a handful of fans on each side dont like the band the others were at. stay home and cultivate some testicles and and fucking soul before you step back into the world of music. asshole.....

iAMuANDwhatIseeISme Wed 10/15/2008 10:22AM
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and nobody asked you to trade in a damn thing. simply, and i quote : "...expand your mind" as you so eloquently put it.

metaltje Wed 10/15/2008 11:37AM
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it is nice to see something different on JamBase. fairly well written article and a spot-on thought to recommend Opeth to Umphrey's fans. neither one of those are really my bands, but it is a well-thought-out comparison. i take issue, however, with the claim that Opeth is THE metal band for the jam scene. i know you want to hook people in with a provocative claim, but this is overblown and disrespectful to a number of bands, including stinking lizavetta. while i don't like the claim of "THE" metal band for the "jam scene", if anyone can lay claim it would probably be Clutch/The Bakerton Group.

RedRocks88 Wed 10/15/2008 12:16PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I happen to be living in Sweden right now so I figured it only appropriate to listen to the sample song. While I can't yet say I'm tempted to attend the next Opeth show, I was able to listen pleasantly throughout the 13 minute sample. I don't know if I could classify it as jammy, but I certainly could point out some similarities with Opeth and some of our favorite jammers. Maybe replace the growling with a little JB and all the double bass drumming with some congas and you got something kinda Panic-esque.

Mark Price former NBA star Wed 10/15/2008 12:54PM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Mark Price former NBA star

these guys make me want to beat someone up. And I'm a weak person, so I'll probaly be the one getting beat up. Thanks for sucking and getting me beat up Opeth, you bunch of assholes.

Bowlegged Texan Wed 10/15/2008 01:22PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Bowlegged Texan


radioboy Wed 10/15/2008 01:53PM
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Music is so boring. MMMMmmmm cake. I like cake!

groovinkangaroo starstarstarstar Wed 10/15/2008 02:27PM
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Wow, how does that dude not destroy his voice? He has pipes like Maynard directly after that growl?

It is so weird to see that intense of music being played by dudes that stand calmly on stage. I guess I used to old Slipknot and SOAD or something. Fantastic musicianship though.

Chapelchilla starstarstarstar Wed 10/15/2008 09:22PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

After he stopped growling and started singing, I really enjoyed it. Not bad at all. The band was tight and I think it would be a fun show to attend.

apollo18 Sat 10/18/2008 08:44AM
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This article ignores the best band on the bill that night - Baroness. They are the only band that played that night that I would pay to see headline another show.

tnspreadhead89 Mon 10/20/2008 12:18PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Yea these are some pretty bad-ass musicians and I definately dig jambase for covering them. I was turned on to their album Damnation and i suggest everybody get a listen to that cd. All of it almost is laid-back melodic music that is very cool shit, definately could not tell that all of their other cd's are filled with dark metal shit i don't really care for. Opeth overall is a mediocre band but Damnation is by far their best cd, for us hippies anyway.

brad420 Mon 10/20/2008 05:41PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

opeth is fuckin sick. you hippies are funny. i grew up listening to metal, and im gonna die listening to metal, BUT i get down to everything that everyone else on this site does as well. we arent as stupid as you all think we are, we just like to mosh

the only real difference in my opinion between hippies and metal heads is that you can take a metalhead to a Dead show but you cant take a Deadhead to a metal show. that and metal heads get drunk and beat on each other at shows and hippies eat molly and acid

mreezal Mon 10/20/2008 09:53PM
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that organ is pretty dope