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MUSIC: Opeth bruises the House of Blues

    It was like Satan professing a love for chamomile tea, long walks on the beach and Billy Ocean records (actually, you really do hear “Caribbean Queen” on an endless loop in the depths of hell, but that’s another story). 
    “I love ballads,” Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt announced from the stage at the House of Blues on Wednesday. “I grew up dancing to them.”
    Um, what?
    Death metal dudes aren’t supposed to say stuff like that.     They’re supposed to expound upon the joys of punching kittens, eating glass and splittin’ a Pabst with Beelzebub.  
    It’s part of the official Code of the Badass.
    I mean, does Chuck Norris ever cop to a softer side? 
    No, he just kicks someone in the windpipe and gets on with his day.
    But, to be fair, there is plenty of punishment at an Opeth gig
    When the Swedish quintet hunkers down over their instruments and Akerfeldt channels his inner Orc on the mic, the band can steamroll the senses with the best of them.
    But unlike most of their peers, Opeth has evolved from straight-up death metal brutes to one of the more progressive bands in all of rock, skilled at balancing war zone-levels of brutality with moments of breathtaking beauty.
    Their tunes are intricate and overpowering at once — they wield a scalpel one minute, a meat cleaver the next — often epic in scope, spiraling past the 10-minute mark
    During a show-opening “Heir Apparent,” one of the standout cuts from the band’s latest disc “Watershed,” which is one of the year’s best, Opeth bared their teeth with rapid-fire riffing and a rhythmic concussiveness suggestive of a couple of tectonic plates crashing into one another.
    But a few songs later, on another tune from that album, “Lotus Eater,” the band displayed some of the dynamics that’s come to distinguish them.
    The cut began with a sweetly hummed melody, and as the band dug into the tune, Akerfeldt alternated a bellicose roar with clean, resonant singing that lent the song a dramatic arc like you seldom hear in extreme metal.     
    Plenty of bands do the whole scream/sing, but not like this bunch: Their songs are multihued and labyrinthine, and there’s seldom a traditional verse/chorus/verse structure in their sprawling catalog.
    Blending stately balladry with murderous dirges, the band’s sound seems like a contradiction in terms, but it works seamlessly.
    Death metal, with all its velocity and turgid rhythms, can seem stentorian and unrelenting at times.
    But Opeth infuses the genre with a jazzy swing, so you can go to guillotine with a bounce in your step.
    Similarly diffuse is the of wild-eyed Southern stoner metal of Baroness, which opened the show.
    Employing a fascination with tone and texture like a supremely pissed off Pink Floyd, the band overwhelms with extended, quartz-dense jams shot through with soaring guitar harmonies (think Phish if they ate children) and a frontman who looks like Captain Caveman on a bad day. 
    And then there was High on Fire, the most awesomely single-minded band on the bill.
    Their aim is a simple one: to become the modern incarnation of Motorhead.
    And they succeed at it, completely.
    Singer/guitarist Mike Pike has one of the nastiest guitar tones ever — experienced live, it feels like someone replaced your cochlea with a buzzing wasps nest.
    Their songs literally sound like stampeding livestock, with Sabbath-steeped riffs that come at you like they were fired from a cannon.
    When they tore into impossibly heavy ripper “Rumors of War,” well, those rumors proved themselves to be pretty accurate.   

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