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SWAGGER, NOT STYLE

The worldwide headquarters and hindquarters of freelance writer Chris Klimek

Opeth in Baltimore

Chris Klimek

I've managed to enjoy myself at metal shows before. The first concert I ever attended was Iron Maiden with Anthrax opening, in 1991.

Swedish death-metalworkers Opeth traffic in epic, multi-part salvos of sound that combine end-of-days riffage with touchstones of proggy sophistication: Changing time signatures! Spanish guitar interludes! At Ram’s Head Live Sunday night, a healthy crowd was happy to forgive the soft stuff on account of the bodacious plentitude of shock-and-awe. Performing, said frontman Mikael Akerfeldt, the final date of their U.S. tour before they would fly home to Stockholm, the five horsemen seemed neither tired nor exhilarated, but rather utterly professional throughout their 110-minute prophecy of doom.

Akerfeldt’s stage banter was charming and friendly even when it was profane and, well, gross – as when he speculated as to the origins of a stain on the T-shirt he declared he’s played 25 shows in without washing. The singer/songwriter/guitarist is Opeth’s own W. Axl Rose, the sole member who has performed on every album in the group’s 13-year discography. (Opeth vets outnumber active-duty members two-to-one, though Akerfeldt is not yet 35. What is it with heavy metal bands, anyway? Their retention is worse than the Army’s.) Daring to slip a ballad into the set after half an hour without quarter, he pledged to sing “with 350 percent feeling, like Jon Bon Jovi.” The black-shirted (and sometimes shirtless) faithful clapped along during this and other delicate passages, presumably as a show of involvement rather than to sabotage these rhythmically varied interludes, though the effect was the same.

In the moat between the stage and the barriers on the floor, a pair of burly security guys got a good workout catching crowd surfers and sending them gently back to catch another wave. Akerfeldt was clearly moved by our enthusiasm. “I am going to let you touch my private parts,” he announced during the encore. Then, as promised, he gripped his guitar by the neck and extended it into the throng, letting the front row cop a nice, long feel. Party on, Baltimore

A slightly abridged version of this review appears in today's Paper of Record.