Friday, May 29, 2009

Enslaved and Opeth at The Grand Ballroom

I don't generally pass up an opportunity to see Opeth, but I opted to show up early - and stand outside in the chill for 30 minutes because the Manhattan Center can't seem to efficiently process people through their gates - because I was curious about Enslaved.  It turned out to be a worthy use of my time.

Prior to about a year ago, my only exposure to Enslaved was the knowledge - not the experience - of the existence of the split they did with Emperor way back in the day.  Then Vertebrae came out, I got a good enough vibe from the MetalSucks review to check it out, and risk turned into a pretty decent reward.  I didn't dig any further into the band's back catalog, but having seen them live, I think I realize where there might have been a hangup: if Tyr is the Soundgarden of pagan metal, Enslaved is the Soundgarden of black metal, requiring a fairly dedicated amount of digging to get through the layers of sound and pull out something cohesive to enjoy.  I look forward to exploring them more.

Enslaved also had an ancillary benefit: much as I had hoped, this show was pretty much douchebag free, perhaps proving in the process the superiority of European black metal over the American variety.  Opeth also made a point of pandering directly to the hardcore, playing a set made up of songs from every album except Orchid and Blackwater Park and mainly avoiding the more popular cuts for rarities like "Karma," which received its New York City debut over ten years after its initial release.  Once he warmed up, Akerfeldt was his usual charming self, bantering with the crowd between songs as he retuned his guitar.  Overall, the performance was pretty much what I wanted, but there was still something missing, and to be honest, I think it was the space.

The Grand Ballroom, you see, is enormous.  Constructed on two levels, with a floor space that has to be a good 100 feet in length, it has a stage at one end that sits high above the crowds below and sports a decor grand enough for Akerfeldt to comment at one point that the place looked like it could have come out of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.  Filled to capacity with Opeth fans, it seemed a pretty logical place for the band to successfully peddle its baroquely-dark sound, but some combination of the huge space they had to fill, their distance from the audience, and perhaps most of the crowd's unfamiliarity with the older material made the energy a bit flatter and the show a bit less intimate than it should have been.  Compared with past efforts, it was good, but it wasn't great.

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