Opeth, In Flames, Red Fang Warehouse Live December 12, 2014
A Houston winter must be a strange thing for a Swede to behold. The only real discernible change from autumn is that the mosquitoes fly south every year. The air outside of Warehouse Live on Friday was a good 40 degrees or so warmer than the weather in Stockholm right now, and it was a hell of a lot warmer inside, where fans crowded in to catch a couple of Scandinavia's longest-running international metal acts.
Though Opeth and In Flames might hail from a region that is fiercely proud of its contributions to the uglier, more extreme end of the metal spectrum, both groups have largely eschewed the brutal trappings of death metal in recent years, pursuing instead an interest in their homeland's popular and pleasant strains of pop and folk. The audience that showed up to see them last week didn't always resemble a death-metal crowd, but it certainly looked big, with people crammed into the big ballroom from the stage to the doors.
If there's been a larger heavy-metal show at Warehouse all year, I didn't see it, and I saw quite a few.
Portland's hirsute hard-rockers Red Fang went on first. Probably just as glad as their Swedish tour mates to avoid a little ice and snow, the group worked up a healthy sweat pumping out their raucous brand of stoner metal. A lot of ticketholders missed out on a nice set, with plenty of folks opting to show up late. Thanks to Red Fang's suicidal touring pace, though, fans will probably have another chance to see them fairly soon.
Up next was In Flames, one of the most successful proponents of Swedish metal's legendary "Gothenburg sound." Though their roots lie squarely within their hometown's revered Studio Fredman, it's now been more than a decade since In Flames decided to drop the death growls in favor of catchy, singalong choruses. Plenty of this 21st-century material, like the effervescent "Cloud Connected," was on display Friday as the crowd continued to swell. By the time In Flames signed off, the show was looking more and more like a sellout.
In Flames was technically the co-headliner of the tour, but when Opeth arrived onstage, the cheers that went up removed any doubt as to who had sold more tickets. Plugging in promptly at 9:45 p.m. -- pretty dang early by metal standards -- Opeth started out not with a bang, but with clean and gentle guitar strumming on "Eternal Rains Will Come," the languid opening track to their new album.
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As the set wore on, Opeth cranked it up a bit here and there, peppering in some growling vocals and blast-beating in between all the time-signature changes. But this wasn't much of a mosh-pit kind of a concert. There was some headbanging and devil-horn throwing from time to time, but mostly Opeth's local fans simply hung out and watched their prog-metal heroes play, saving the whooping and screaming for the applause breaks. There were some crushing double-bass passages to savor, sure, but Opeth's people out there in the dark were more enthralled by the band's lush vocal harmonies and tight compositions.
Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt certainly appeared to be enjoying playing for a large Texas crowd, favoring the audience with a funny story about the metal band Celtic Frost and Swiss painter H.R. Giger and bidding fans to sing "Happy Birthday" in a recoded message to one of the members of Swedish doom band Candlemass.
He also made reference to the moldy prime-time soap Dallas, which drew quite a few boos. But Åkerfeldt knew just how to get the big crowd back on his side.
"You're fantastic," he told the crowd. "I would have to say, one of the best crowds on this tour so far."
Whether he was putting us on a little or not didn't matter. Opeth finished up with "Deliverance," a real doozy featuring a blinding flurry of strobe lights and guitar pedals. What they may have lacked in brutality, Opeth more than made up for with well-rehearsed brilliance, sending a big crowd home happy without so much as a single new scar.
Personal Bias: Prog skeptic.
The Crowd: Thick with thirtysomethings.
Overheard in the Crowd: "Excuse me... sorry... excuse me..."
Random Notebook Dump: Opeth's intricate guitar solos had me wondering exactly when Trans-Siberian Orchestra would be heading back to Toyota Center this year. Surprise: this Friday!
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