Mainstream American metal may have transformed into a pathetic parade of tattooed guys whining about how their daddies didn't love them, but at least die-hard headbangers can look to Sweden for hope. From Meshuggah's experimental, slide-rule riffs to In Flames' creative redefining of power metal, the current crop of Swedish bands is pushing the boundaries of the genre into brave new territory.
Opeth just might be the most ambitious outfit of the lot. Bashing out adventurous epics that veer from eardrum-hemorrhaging mayhem to elegiac acoustic passages and back again, the group marries extreme brutality to folk, classical, and prog-rock influences. Though the band has been crafting its strikingly original brand of metal since the early '90s, Opeth has achieved even greater heights since the release of Blackwater Park in 2000. Collaborating with Steve Wilson (the British mastermind behind gothic prog-thrashers Porcupine Tree), guitarists Mikael Åkerfeldt and Peter Lindgren have ventured into ever more complex arrangements and sophisticated dynamics.
The band followed up the brilliance of Blackwater Park with not one but two albums: the ornate and ferociously pummeling Deliverance, and its melancholy companion piece, Damnation. Featuring Wilson on Mellotron and electric piano, Damnation revels in reflective songwriting and lush textures that salute past prog-rock maestros without resorting to the kind of outright Pink Floyd plagiarism committed by Queensryche (“Silent Lucidity,” my ass). Majesty and beauty aren't words often associated with death metal, but Opeth matches the intense fury of its music with a surprising level of depth and emotion. This tour to promote the band's new in-concert DVD, Lamentations — Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire, is sure to convert more followers stateside.