Heart of Steel: Concert Reviews

Review and live pictures by Lord of the Wasteland

Right from the get-go, things didn't sound good. This was Opeth's first trip to Vancouver and the third date on their North American tour. Three days earlier, the band made a last-minute cancellation of their Edmonton date, citing drummer Martin Lopez' illness as the reason. Two nights later, the Calgary date was also questionable but the band decided to carry on with the show, but with a reduced set and their drum tech sitting behind the kit. Opeth played 6 acoustic songs and were profusely apologetic for the situation and even offered discounts to those in attendance. The next night was the Vancouver show and I didn't think it was going to happen. Just a couple of hours before showtime, it was announced that legendary drummer Gene Hoglan (Dark Angel, Death, Testament, Strapping Young Lad) would be filling in for Lopez. This was excellent news, as not only is Hoglan one of the greatest drummers playing today, but indeed the show would go on!

When I first arrived at the venue, I was greeted by the ubiquitous merchandise booth flogging everything from Opeth thongs and stickers to Moonspell t-shirts to DevilDriver toques. What still amazes me is not only what these people charge for their swag, but that people actually pay it. DevilDriver toques selling for $35 and shirts for $55?!?! It's a piece of $2 cotton with an iron-on sticker, for god's sake!!! (In comparison, I should mention that a snazzy Metal-Rules.com toque can be yours for the bargain basement price of $15.99 at www.metal-rules.com/CD/MetalRules-toque.htm.)

I'll admit I was a bit apprehensive about DevilDriver. This is the new band fronted by Dez Fafara, the screamer of former goth/nu-metal pioneers Coal Chamber. His image and musical style with that band was not something that I particularly liked but I thought, "New band…new music…might be good." With that being said, DevilDriver quickly made me forget Coal Chamber ever existed once they hit the stage. Their new, self-titled album was just released on Roadrunner Records and Fafara is certainly the leader of the band. He has assembled a young band of unknowns and opted for a heavier style, as well. Gone are the down-tuned, "chugga-chugga" nu-metal riffs and annoying vocal style. They have been replaced with some thrashy, dual guitar breaks played over a death growl/black scream from Fafara. Bassist John Miller is a strong stage presence as well, not only because he is the only one with long hair, but his thumping licks are a nice bonus to the music. The band played a 30-minute set and covered most of their new CD including "I Could Care Less," "The Mountain," "What Does It Take (To Be A Man)," and "Die (And Die Now)." Fafara had plenty of stage banter with the audience and I didn't hear a single "BOO" from the crowd. Maybe growing his hair out, ditching the silly braided goatee and donning a Motorhead shirt wasn't such a bad career move after all! Based on the songs I heard live, I wouldn't say it's the album of the year, nor would I recommend anyone should immediately rush out and buy DevilDriver's CD, but Fafara has certainly squashed any doubts about whether or not Coal Chamber's influence still runs through his veins. A pleasant surprise.



Portugal's Moonspell was the middle act on the bill and being their first time in Vancouver, the band garnered a pretty warm reception. Moonspell's hybrid of goth/doom/black metal can be a bit tough to take at times given its lyrics, but as a live act, they are very compelling. Vocalist Fernando Ribeiro is "a graduate of the tall, dark and handsome school of European studs," according to one of the female fans I spoke to and he is indeed a commanding presence on stage. Second guitarist/keyboardist Pedro Paixao appears to do double duty as the band's sound tech, setting and coordinating levels before their set. During "The Southern Deathstyle," Ribeiro appeared on stage with what can best be described as tribal skull stick. I'm not sure what the significance of it was, but it certainly looked cool! Ribeiro also took a respectful turn at cymbals during the 50-minute set finale, "Full Moon Madness." The band played killer versions of "Full Moon Madness" and "Opium" from 1996's IRRELIGIOUS CD and "In And Above Men" from their latest release, THE ANTIDOTE. They chose to omit from their set any tracks from their much-loathed SIN/PECADO and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT albums, but every other release received fair treatment. There was plenty of headbanging done to Moonspell and the Vancouver crowd seemed thrilled having them here.

Moonspell's Setlist:

  1. Intro

  2. In And Above Men

  3. From Lowering Skies

  4. Alma Mater

  5. Vampiria

  6. The Southern Deathstyle

  7. Everything Invaded

  8. Opium

  9. Devilred

  10. Full Moon Madness



The clutter of the stage soon cleared and a single chair was brought out and placed directly at center-stage. There was some controversy over the setlist chosen for this tour given that Opeth had already toured in support of their acoustic CD, DAMNATION. Fans hoped for a "metal" Opeth show, but because of Martin Lopez' absence, they were forced to improvise and strip things down until his return. Once the chair was put in place, the fans got restless, knowing they weren't going to get their metal fix. Despite notices clearly posted outside the venue that a full refund would be given or a $5 cash rebate to those chosen to go in anyway, people still seemed shocked, for some reason. Also on the notice was that Opeth would be doing a "meet-and-greet" at the merchandise booth after the show. Before they even played a song, Mikael Akerfeldt made a statement of apology and explained the situation. He seemed genuinely disappointed that they couldn't play their planned set, but appreciated everyone's understanding that still came to witness Opeth's first Vancouver appearance. Opeth's drum tech, Damon, was introduced and given a rousing round of applause for stepping up to the plate. He did a fine job despite requiring notes next to him for the songs. The band kicked off the show with a haunting rendition of "In My Time Of Need" from DAMNATION. This is one of the band's best songs-acoustic or not-and Akerfeldt's remarkable voice didn't miss a note. Following "To The Rid The Disease" was an interesting choice given the circumstances-a cover song! Taking a stab at Deep Purple's "Soldier Of Fortune" from 1974's STORMBRINGER album, the band did the classic justice with their use of acoustic guitar and Akerfeldt's spot-on David Coverdale imitation. "Hope Leaves," another DAMNATION track, ended the acoustic set on a high note. With it's Pink Floyd-like passages, this song hearkens back to the psychedelic rock of the 1970s, which Akerfeldt is a notorious fan of. This track is another stellar song that I was happy to see performed live.

With that, Akerfeldt said that they would be doing some "metal songs" and that they "found a drummer in the house." As expected, out strode the mighty Gene Hoglan to chants of "HOGLAN!! HOGLAN!! HOGLAN!!" Akerfeldt proceeded to announce that Hoglan called him 2 days earlier and said he would be willing to fill in on the Vancouver date. With one day to practice and learn the songs , Akerfeldt said Hoglan nailed one song on the first take and the second song in 2 takes! Akerfeldt joked, "We thought we were technical metal, but he made it look like child's play!" The band kicked into a searing version of "The Drapery Falls" from BLACKWATER PARK to the fans delight. As promised, Hoglan didn't miss a cue and made people wonder aloud, "Martin WHO?!?" "Demon Of The Fall" from MY ARMS, YOUR HEARSE concluded the band's all-too-brief 50-minute set, leaving fans chanting for more. Unfortunately, Akerfeldt stated earlier that there would be no encore under the circumstances and the band stuck to their word.

Opeth's Setlist:

In My Time Of Need
To Rid The Disease
Soldier Of Fortune
Ending Credits
Hope Leaves
The Drapery Falls
Demon Of The Fall

After the show, a line-up for the 20-minute meet-and-greet began to form and it appeared that only a slice of their crowd would get a chance for an autograph, photo or handshake. When all was said and done, the band stayed there until every last person standing in line got a chance to meet them-VERY COOL GUYS!

While the masses were up the street for the Nickelback and Staind show, Vancouver metalheads descended on The Commodore for what was, well, one of the more "interesting" shows I've seen in awhile. You can't fault Opeth for not trying to make the best of the situation. Short of putting on a free show, they did everything they could to accommodate the unfortunate circumstances that greeted them upon the arrival for the North American tour. Lopez reportedly returned to the band the next night in Seattle for the rest of the tour where a "regular" set was played. Still, Opeth promised to come back and play a full show for us later, so you can bet that we're holding them to it!!


***Thanks to George @ Century Media for the photo pass & ticket***