Well before it was officially announced, the co-headlining tour — now dubbed Heritage/Hunter — featuring Mastodon and Opeth was already generating tour-of-the-year-level buzz around the rock/metal community.
While the three bands are exceedingly different in style, their respective fan bases have a surprising overlap, save for maybe the most prog-happy of Opeth's fans and the most mainstream of Mastodon's.
Swedish cult rockers Ghost opened the show last Wednesday night at New York City's Roseland Ballroom, and it's a testament to their burgeoning popularity that a good majority of the crowd was present and at full attention when they took the stage, kicking things off with "Con Clavi Con Dio" from their sole studio album, Opus Eponymous.
It was strange seeing Ghost in such a large venue, especially given how at home they seem in the cramped quarters of smaller stages like the one at The Studio at Webster Hall. Lacking their typical blacklight setup, which will make a small venue feel like a sinister cathedral, enigmatic frontman Papa Emiretus — who appears as some sort of Satanic pope, for the uninitiated among you — can still captivate a crowd, gimmick or not. (Although the gimmick certainly helps.)
The band played an abbreviated version of their regular set, punctuated by fan favorites like "Prime Mover" and "Satan Prayer," although their cover of The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" was sorely missed.
Taking turns closing each night of the tour, the task of playing first fell on Opeth on this occasion, and they got things started with "Devil's Orchard," the proggy, odd-metered first single from the band's latest album, Heritage (buy on iTunes). It generated a surprisingly loud sing-along for the chorus of "God is dead."
After "I Feel the Dark" — also from Heritage — frontman Mikael Akerfeldt addressed the crowd in his typical dry fashion, saying, "Hi. We're Opeth. From Sweden. We're going to play some music for you. And that's it," before playfully pointing to the projection screens behind him and adding, "And also we have some movies for you."
Perhaps responding to the crowd's awkward attempt to mosh during the '70s prog-inspired Heritage material, you could see a sly smile on the face of Akerfeldt as the band launched into the 10-minute-plus "The Grand Conjuration" from 2005's Ghost Reveries — the first track in their set to feature the death-metal growls missing from their last album, and indeed their last headlining tour.
("My screams aren't getting better," Akerfeldt told us in September of last year. "On the contrary, I think I'm a worse screamer than I used to be." A lot of fans at Roseland that night would humbly disagree.)
Likely owing to his recent propensity for clean vocals, Akerfeldt's voice sounded spot on, effortlessly tackling some of the more adventurous melodies on Heritage before the night took a heavy turn with the end of their set.
Taking an even more surprising turn, the band closed with "Demon of the Fall" from 1998's My Arms, Your Hearse, a track that hasn't been played live since 2010.
Mastodon took the stage last, managing to pack 17 songs into an exceedingly energetic set, thanks mostly to the more streamlined approach they took with their latest album, The Hunter (buy on iTunes), which, minus "Creature Lives," was played in its entirety. (The fact that many music critics doubted whether or not Mastodon could pull off The Hunter's vocals live has now been firmly relegated to being a laughable footnote in the band's history.)
"Black Tongue" is a natural live opener, the octave-heavy main riff and thundering toms setting the mood for what was to be a practically non-stop barrage of music from the Atlanta-based band.
Mastodon's songs don't have hooks so much as muscular, sinewy tendrils that wrap around your ankles and pull you into the deep end. While the comparatively abbreviated numbers in the evening's setlist don't merit the (over)use of the word "epic" quite as much as some of their older material, by the time the band closed out the show with the almost-pretty "The Sparrow," it was hard not to feel like you had been a part of something grand in scale, band and audience acting together to do a whole mess of heavy lifting.
Don't get what I mean? Go see for yourself.
Photo: Karla Mera