Friday, May 29, 2009

Opeth and the Dionysian Principle

It's a disgusting day outside. Dis-gust-ing.

Late Old French desgouster, to lose one's appetite : des-, dis- + gouster, to eat, taste (from Latin gustre; see geus- in Indo-European roots) [1]

It has been grey for three days, with that miasma of sky-piss and blanketed grey that serves to beat any latent depression into blazing life. So much for the first week of my summer break.

This is the perfect weather for listening to Opeth, though. Even better weather for putting on 'Deliverance' and 'Watershed', and reliving the show at the HOB in Boston on May 2nd.

Access the show's set-list here.

I had meant to review the show here post-haste, but that's the thing with an Opeth show: you're stuck in a sound reverie for about five days after it, every word you write to attempt describing it pales in comparison to the actual experience. It doesn't help that the sound system at the HOB owns. Screw stadium shows: there's nothing like catching a club tour if you are lucky enough to do so. I was standing with my back against the metal chain-links that protected the sound pit from the milling mob. One of the sound techs had on a well-worn crew shirt from a Queen tour-- you just *knew* that this guy was passionate about all the knobs, dials and buttons he was playing with, and had honed his skills to a fine point. The bass and treble played out beautifully, and all that the row of us acting as the sound pit's front guard could do was lean against the metal meshing and give in to the gorgeous onslaught of sonic power.

I personally consider myself lucky enough to have caught Enslaved live, as they opened for Opeth. Not going to go into an in-depth take on their music, when it is obvious this guy already has, and with great authenticity of feeling. Enslaved put on a great live act (the HOB has a no-click rule, but thankfully Jason Sheesley posted gorgeous pics from this tour here). They are not interested in the performance, they are there to play their face-melting Viking metal, with enough power to shake every Scandinavian squirrel out of the ash Yggdrasil. Hadn't heard them before. Have decided though, they sound better live than on myspace, and only dip into the prog metal work that Opeth likes to dive deep in.

Vertebrae is probably a good gateway album for folks like me who haven't heard the older, meaner Enslaved. One track (can't find the set-list anywhere, but will edit this post once I check the album over twice) in particular made me reminisce about the troll that the lads from Metalocalypse invoke: one of my top five favourite dethklok moments. Ever.

Some folks got into it, but you could tell most everyone was there for Åkerfeldt & Co.

N.B.-- Opeth is not limited by the death metal tag. Being at an Opeth show is like listening to King Crimson, Black Sabbath, King Diamond, and Floyd all at once. Being at an Opeth show is to require no other stimulant apart from the music itself. It is to merely stand there and let your body and mind be taken over by the sound. Nothing else matters, truly: Opeth isn't a band of personalities and stage antics. It's a band of ten-minute operatic masterpieces and beautiful, long Swedish man-hair.

There is no single demographic that listens to Opeth, either. There were grubby school boys, older biker chicks, retired insurance agents, genuine metal heads, a group of Assamese gents n' ladies and the few mandatory emo children present, all of 'em adorned in black, for the most part. There were the Opeth forum folk, who knew every lyric and referred to key Opeth tracks by their recognized acronym (TNATSW, for instance). Lots of women, some who began dancing mid-mosh, which was great. Nothing like a metal chick dancing to Opeth. Something about the band's music, or perhaps popped X adds grace to human bodies like nothing else. Opeth was the pied piper, and each one of us moved the way their playing told us to. It helped that Mike Åkerfeldt has a ridiculously good sense of humor. He might just end up being the godfather of heavy metal stand-up, one day.

And the moshing. By all that is powerful in heaven and hell, what moshing. Esp. during Lotus Eater.

Some enterprising dick actually recorded some of it, which is awesome.

Mashallah-- I'm not the first one to comment on the correlation between the Dionysian and Heavy Metal. Weinstein (2000) said it best:

Dionysian experience . . . is embodied in the unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock and roll. The Dionysian is juxtaposed to a strong emotional involvement in all that challenges the order and hegemony of everyday life: monsters, the underworld and hell, the grotesque and horrifying, disasters, mayhem, carnage, injustice, death and rebellion. Both Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) and Chaos (the most ancient god, who precedes from itself) are empowered by the sonic values of the music to fight a never-ending battle for the soul of the genre and to join together in combat against the smug security and safety of respectable society (35).
[get your hands on Weinstein's 'Heavy metal: the music and its culture' if you can. All the ladies downing vodka bulls will think you infinitely more awesome than you really are, of course. *coughs* ]

Opeth is technically not what you would call a mosher band. But something special happened that night, as people collectively moved into a frenzied zone of interaction which was war/rite of passage/youth/magic/delirium all meshed into one. We could've raised the dead that night, or at least a troll or two. We could've slapped the world into a wide-awakening, without knowing we had done so, not caring that we had, so caught up were we in the beauty and olden-type ritual magic that pervaded the general admission area at the HOB.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2003. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.