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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2008

Opeth w/ High on Fire @ The Rave

Sept. 26, 2008

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   Despite two decades and nine albums to his credit, Mikael Ĺkerfeldt, the compelling frontman of the Swedish dark-metal band Opeth, recently told Powerplay magazine that he still gets anxious playing live. "Why am I nervous?" he asked. "It's just metal."

  Actually, it's not, and Opeth proved why during a jaw-dropping performance of melodic beauty and brutality Friday night in a packed room at The Rave. In fact, the quintet manages to transcend metal while still sounding quintessentially metal, a monumental task considering today's fractured state of the genre. Originally a death-metal band that incorporated progressive, folk and acoustic influences, Opeth's gradual evolution is made manifest in the blurring of devastating doom-filled power chords with pastoral acoustic guitars, guttural growls with singer/songwriter vocals and piano solos with symphonic arrangements-often all in one piece of music.

  The band's 10-song, two-hour set covered most phases of that evolution, from 1996's Morningrise to this year's crowning achievement, Watershed, including one cut from 2003's acoustic album, Damnation ("Hope Leaves"), and two tracks from 2001's breakthrough, Blackwater Park ("Bleak" and encore "The Drapery Falls"). The music's abrupt signature changes and complex-at times, tedious-polyrhythmic arrangements invoked King Crimson, while extended atmospheric instrumental breaks echoed Pink Floyd.

  Opeth played its first concert on U.S. soil at 2000's Milwaukee Metalfest, a fact not lost on Ĺkerfeldt, who referenced that performance by stating, "We sucked." He also took several minutes to read aloud (and comment on) a fan letter that was passed to the stage from the crowd, and joked that, "We don't have any hit singles." That may be true, but Opeth's incongruous, trends-be-damned approach to dark and heavy music remains something to which other bands aspire but none yet rival.

  By contrast, the thudding California trio High on Fire opened with an overlong 60-minute set of uninspired stoner/death metal.