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Swedish band Ghost, the opener for this tour, has been generating a lot of buzz in the metal community, so much so that the venue was almost completely full when they played. Not only is this rare for an opening band, but the venue’s doors opened right before they hit the stage. So at a time when people are usually trickling in and getting situated, the crowd was already seated and watching with rapt attention. It’s no wonder since Ghost has so much mystery surrounding them and they write damn good songs. They practically came out of nowhere with a 3 track demo in 2010 and their first full length album, Opus Eponymous, in 2011.
The true identity of the members remains unknown with the singer calling himself “Papa Emeritus” and the rest of the members simply “nameless ghouls.” With the stage bathed in eerie red light and decorated like a Satanic Catholic church, Papa Emeritus came out in his staple evil pope outfit and skull mask introducing songs in a heavy Romanian Dracula-like accent. The rest of the band wore plain black robes with hoods that covered the entire face. The whole performance gave the feeling that you were witnessing some kind of Satanic ritual ceremony that you weren’t sure you would make it out of. They played their heavily Mercyful Fate influenced music (songs like “Satan Prayer” and “Ritual”) with brilliant skill and moxie that left you wanting more after their short set.
The co-headliners, Mastodon, were up next on this particular evening. Although Opeth and Mastodon have been alternating who closes out each show throughout the tour (an innovative idea considering both bands are on equal footing popularity-wise), it would seem tough to decide who plays before whom. Mastodon closed out the show the night before in Las Vegas, yet still played with the energy of a headliner, grabbing everyone’s attention even with their much more subdued stage show in comparison to Ghost.
Mastodon focused mainly on playing material from their latest album ,The Hunter, which earned them a Grammy nomination for the song “Curl of the Burl” and was very well received by fans and critics. In fact, they played almost the entire album with only 5 songs out of their 17-song set being from previous records; almost as if any previous material played was simply obligatory. Both the fans’ and the band’s enthusiasm for the new material was clearly reflected in the performance of songs like “Black Tongue”, which was the first of the night and also the first song on the album. A spirited version of “Crack the Sky” served more as an interlude before launching back into more Hunter material with “All the Heavy Lifting”, “Specetrelight” ,“Curl of the Burl” and “Bedazzled Fingernails.” One wonders why they didn’t just play the album in its entirety since they only left off 3 songs from it and the sequence of the songs as they are on the album actually flows better than the order in which they were played during this set. Still a fantastic performance, to say the least, with Mastodon’s well known musical prowess in full force backed by an infectious energy and enthusiasm.
Opeth’s latest album, Heritage, shares some similarities with The Hunter since it was released in September 2011 on Roadrunner Records and was also a critical and commercial success. Opeth, like Mastodon, seemed to focus mainly on playing material from this newest album and, given that this is the ‘Heritage Hunter’ tour, it seemed an appropriate theme for the evening. Opeth is all about the blending of hard and soft, of dark and light (hence the yin and yang symbol within their logo), and this set was no exception. Opening up with “The Devils Orchard” (one of the more upbeat songs on the new record) followed by “I Feel the Dark” which is one of the slower, more psychedelic songs on it. These two songs follow one another on the record as well and flowed seamlessly together. The slower, jazzy quality of the Heritage material translated a little heavier and crunchier live, surely pleasing many of Opeth’s fans that prefer the bands more death metal qualities.
For being as quiet and reserved as Opeth front man Mikael Åkerfeldt seems, he certainly has a sense of humor. The song “Slither”, a Heritage song which was dedicated to the late Ronnie James Dio, was introduced with the warning “It will be like Dio, only shitter. Please at least nod your head to the beat.”. He also introduced “The Lines In My Hand”, another new one, by saying “This one reminds me of when we used to play Misfits and Dead Kennedys songs because it was fucking fun!”. Although “The Lines In My Hand” is hardly a punk song, it definitely has a stripped down quality. “Demon of the Fall” from one of the bands early albums (My Arms, Your Hearse) was a treat for long time fans of the band, especially because of the antidote that the preceded the song where Åkerfeldt reminisced on recording the album in “Gothenburg, the anus of Sweden” and recalled their drummer at the time sleeping in the bathroom at the studio with a pile of pornographic magazines as a pillow. Other older songs like “Windowpane” from Damnation Sounded Fantastic seemed to have an even dreamier, more eerie quality than normal, perhaps due to some influence from the new material. The closer “The Grand Conjuration” from Ghost Reveries was the perfect ending as it wholly encompassed both the light and dark of the band and left the listener desperately wanting more.