Opeth/Katatonia - October 31, 2011 - Mr. Smalls Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
By: David E. Gehlke
Katatonia guitarist Anders Nystrom noted to this scribe a few weeks ago that this was a "dream tour" and who are we to argue? The Opeth/Katatonia union runs deep, with both bands being extremely close, so much so that they comprise of death metal throwback kings Bloodbath, have appeared on each other's albums, and have long been connected throughout the 20-plus years in which they've been around. Being that this show fell on Halloween, it was even suggested that Bloodbath take the stage to bust out some Stockholm, but the night belonged an emerging Katatonia and a suddenly (but not surprisingly) reserved Opeth. And let's not forget some dude with a chicken suit crowd-surfing. It was Halloween after all.
A goofy 7:30 PM start-time meant that Blistering and his ever-doting girlfriend (who had the "pleasure" of listening to yours truly sing all night) strolled inside as soon as Katatonia launched into "Leaders." This was the band's first venture into Pittsburgh, meaning the band basically had an entirely new audience to play for. However, most Pittsburgh scene vets make the trek to neighboring Cleveland to catch the Swedes at Peabody's Down Under. Still, singer Jonas Renkse was sure to make notice that this was their inaugural visit to the Steel City. Took them long enough...
No real surprises in Katatonia's set, with usual live staples like "My Twin," "July," "Soil Song," and "Ghost of the Sun" filling up Mr. Smalls' cavernous air space. Renkse is as stationary as ever, still preferring to have his long locks cover his face as he sang. The guitar tandem of Nystrom and Per "Sodomizer" Erikson have developed quite the rapport, with Erikson now handling the bulk of the lead guitar duties, allowing Nystrom to handle more vocals (see: "The Longest Year"). Not surprisingly, the band went over well with the crowd, hopefully giving the Swedes additional momentum (and incentive) as they prepare to head back into the studio.
Several close confidants of Blistering warned that Opeth's set was to little of anyone's liking, and on some levels, they were right. Touring in support of the rather iffy Heritage, Opeth opted to forego any of their traditional progressive death metal ventures (as in, the ones where Michael Akerfeldt growls) in favor of their more mellow tracks. If the band's goal was to seamlessly blend in their new, 70's-inspired tracks with the rest of their catalog, then it worked, as "The Devil's Orchard," "I See the Dark," "Nepenthe" (which Akerfeldt claimed he didn't know to pronounce) and "Slither" sounded livelier than on record.
The band's set started to drag like nobody's business around the halfway point, with Akerfeldt and fellow guitarist Fredrik Akesson sitting down for renditions of "Face of Melinda" and the totally misplaced (and boring) "The Frost of Winter," which is a bonus track from the band's Orchid debut. "Credence" was of additional detriment, setting up the monstrously long "A Fair Judgment" and "Hex Omega." In spite of the relatively mellow nature of the set, Akerfeldt's in-between song quips to the audience about Halloween, the aforementioned chicken suit, and how bassist Martin Mendez was going to "be Mike for Halloween. He'll easily get a hundred chicks that way" were priceless, eliciting laughs from the crowd. Akerfeldt is easily one of the funniest frontmen in the business.
Opethís quest to get out of the progressive death metal box was on full display this evening, and the sellout crowd didnít seem to mind, which says a lot about the Swedes and their fanbase. Opethís status as the preeminent cerebral metal band remains relatively untarnished, heightened by the bandís quest to become more mature and vintage at the same time.