The Bowery Presents
Opeth and Gojira

WSOU Presents

Opeth and Gojira

Devin Townsend Project

Sun, May 7, 2017

Doors: 6:30 pm / Show: 6:30 pm

Starland Ballroom

Sayreville, NJ

$42.50 ADV/$45.00 DOS

This event is all ages

Opeth
Opeth
An unstoppable force for uniqueness amid a sea of generic swill, Opeth have been setting the rulebook ablaze and ploughing a uniquely progressive and exploratory furrow for nearly 25 years now. Formed in Stockholm in 1990, the band led by singer, guitarist and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt began life as maverick and honorary members of the then flourishing Swedish death metal scene, but from their earliest recordings onwards this band have neither conformed nor exhibited any desire to be restricted to a single genre. Displaying a relentless lust for evolutionary motion, Opeth's first three albums – Orchid 1995, Morningrise (1996) and My Arms, Your Hearse (1998) - set the band firmly apart from everything else that was happening in metal during the 90s. Instinctively brave and effortlessly mysterious, these were groundbreaking records that could be superficially described as 'progressive death metal', but which were plainly much more than that: a singular expression of a profound love for music in its bewildering entirety that served the band extremely well over the decades that followed. By the time Opeth released Still Life in 1999 (prompting a spiritual and professional bond with prog icon Steven Wilson that survives to this day) they were simply in a class of their own, taking metal into uncharted territory as a matter of habit as they skilfully weaved all manner of disparate influences into their unmistakable trademark sound.

An instant classic that has gone on to become one of the most revered albums in recent history, 2001's Blackwater Park proved to be a decisive moment in Opeth's career, leading them to a succession of extensive tours around the globe and ensuring that the band were universally hailed as something very special indeed. With Åkerfeldt 's musical vision and refusal to kow-tow to current trends propelling them breathlessly forward, the band moved on through the two-headed derring-do of 2002's Deliverance and its startlingly mellow and pointedly non-metallic follow-up Damnation (2003) (winner of the 2003 Swedish Grammy award for Best Hard Rock Performance), enhancing their credentials as true inheritors of progressive rock's restless spirit along the way. Perfecting their established sound on 2005's Ghost Reveries and bending it into warped and disturbing shapes on the critically acclaimed Watershed in 2008, Opeth entered their third decade with a formidable reputation and a huge international fan base. A sold out show at London's legendary Royal Albert Hall (later documented on a special live album and DVD) signified that the band were now fully deserving of their status as true greats of the modern age.

And then in 2011, with typical audacity, they released their tenth album, Heritage. Although most fans were immediately entranced by the album's daring reinvention of the Opeth sound, its contents were hugely adventurous and took the band ever further into an experimental realm that most of their contemporaries would never have even considered, let alone conquered with such breathtaking aplomb. Eschewing the death metal vocal style that had long been a part of their arsenal, Åkerfeldt and his band mates were torching the rulebook once again. Yet more tours followed, including some jaw-dropping acoustic shows that threw fresh light on the whole Opeth experience, and despite a smattering of negative reactions from truculent purists, the Heritage era signalled a heartening revitalisation of a band now more than two decades old. And that glorious creative rejuvenation continues on the band's long-awaited eleventh studio album, Pale Communion.

"The best way for me to write is always to just write the stuff that I want to hear myself," states Mikael today. "I'm pretty headstrong, so a few negative reactions to Heritage didn't push me in any way. That album started something new. Every record feels like part of a chain. We wouldn't have done Heritage without the previous records and the same is true of Pale Communion. I sat down and wrote the songs like I did for Heritage and the one before that. Heritage rejuvenated the band a little bit and I could see a way to continue doing this band without focusing on what we're known for. We'd done that for so many records that I was a bit fed up with it. Now we have a future and Pale Communion is the continuation of that."

Yet another compelling evolutionary step and a consolidation of the foundations laid down on Heritage, Pale Communion is simply another sublime piece of sonic artistry from one of the greatest bands on the planet. From the skewed grooves and dazzling atmospherics of the opening Eternal Rains Will Come to the devastating orchestral sweep and melodic precision of the closing Faith In Others, it is an album that expands Opeth's sonic palette beyond all measure while still retaining that mercurial essence that first made them such a unique proposition. As Mikael explains, Pale Communion is a record that came together intuitively and without compromise, driven forward by the magical chemistry between all five members of the band.

"I would have to say that we're happy band right now and there have been times when we weren't happy," he states. "Everyone's pulling their weight and it feels like a collective with the same ideas. We've been touring a lot for the Heritage record, so we're a tight unit. We hang out a lot as friends. We play well and we get along well and we have a mutual understanding of where we want to take this band. And I know the guys can play anything. They're fantastic musicians. As I was writing the songs, Fredrik [Åkesson, guitar] came down to my studio to lay down some solos. He was really involved in the process and listening to whatever I came up with. It was the first record for Joakim [Svalberg, keyboards] and he's been really psyched about doing this record. Long before we started recording he was saying that he couldn't wait to be involved, and he really stepped up to the plate. Axe [drummer Martin Axenrot] and [bassist Martin] Méndez are a tight unit too. Axe went over to Barcelona where Méndez lives to rehearse for a few days and then they put everything down in three or four days in the studio. It was easy. It was easy for everybody."

In keeping with Opeth's oft-professed love of the classic rock, hard rock and progressive records of the early 70s, Pale Communion was recorded at the legendary Rockfield studios in Wales. Soaking up the atmosphere of the place where such immortal albums as Judas Priest's Sad Wings Of Destiny and Queen's Sheer Heart Attack were recorded 40 years ago, Mikael could hardly have found a more suitable location for the recording of his band's new material.

"I do like many records that were made there and it's a legendary studio," he agrees. "We like to pay homage to that stuff. The place where we made Heritage is famous for Abba recording there, for instance! But Rockfield was available, it was fairly cheap, it was a residential studio and they cooked for us! It's right in the middle of nowhere so we know we wouldn't be distracted by the city lights or pubs or whatever. That's why we chose it. But then, of course, Sad Wings Of Destiny was recorded there so it can't be complete shit! I think we could've made a good sounding record anywhere, but the location and the logistics of being there were good for us."

While Heritage was a proud move away from the digitised uniformity of modern metal and into the beatific warmth of old school analogue, Pale Communion is an altogether sharper and more vivid representation of Opeth's ongoing development. Overwhelmingly melodic and yet remorselessly diverse and unpredictable, these eight songs are as potent and mesmerising as anything in the band's illustrious canon. From the exquisite ebb and flow of Cusp Of Eternity – the first new song to be released into the wider world – and the epic, menacing sprawl of the ten-minute Moon Above, Sun Below through to the throbbing instrumental perversity of Goblin (which, of course, was inspired by the Italian prog band of the same name), the lush, country-tinged harmonies and rhythmic rumble of River and the gorgeous strings and pin-sharp melodic thrust of Faith In Others ("the best song Mikael has ever written…" according to Steven Wilson), Pale Communion is another flawless triumph from a band that seem to still be gathering strength and gaining momentum. Who knows what the future will bring…

"It'll be our 25th anniversary next year and we're 11 records in. We'll just see where it takes us, as always," says Mikael. "I hope people appreciate that we don't play by the rules. I want us to be in a position where we're accepted for what we are, and not what people want us to be. I guess we're a rock band but we do a little bit of everything and that's what I like about it. It makes it interesting and fresh for us as musicians to not be pigeonholed and to not be pure. It would be complete death for me as a musician to just do one thing. I admire bands that can do that, but are they true to themselves? Don't they have any other influences? That's quite impressive and probably harder than branching out. But we can't do that. It's impossible for us. I don't know where we're going next and that's exciting to me."
Gojira
Gojira
It has always been hard to put a tag on GOJIRA, one of France’s most extreme bands the country’s musical pallet has ever known. But then again, the band has never really sought out such a tag, instead letting the music do the talking, preferring introspection and intelligence over preconceived notions and preexisting tags. Ever since the 1996 formation in town of Bayonne in the southwest of France, GOJIRA has been an ever-evolving experiment in extreme metal ultimately built upon a worldly, ever-conscious outlook with roots firmly-planted both in the hippie movement and an environmentally-conscious, new age mentality. This time, with The Way of All Flesh, GOJIRA harnesses a spiritual consciousness as well, but still culminates in a sound wholly heavy.

Originally dubbed Godzilla, after the scaly, green film star with an equally huge reputation as the newfound band’s sound, the brothers Duplantier – guitarist/vocalist Joe and drummer Mario – and fellow Frenchmen Jean Michel Labadie on bass and Christian Andreu on guitar, quickly released several demos, ultimately changing the band’s name and independently releasing the first GOJIRA album, Terra Incognita, in 2001, offering up a brief glimpse into the giant GOJIRA would eventually become through persistent hard work and years of toiling in the metal underground.

After the 2003 release of the band’s follow-up, The Link, throughout Europe and the subsequent live DVD release the next year, of the aptly-titled The Link Alive, 2005 brought the release of From Mars To Sirius, the band’s breakthrough release, garnering high praise and a North American release through Prosthetic Records in 2006. Fans of not only heavy, extreme music took notice, but so did the intellectual world, thanks to Sirius’ thoughtful and expansive inner examination of the world at hand and the consequences of humanity’s struggle to coexist without harm. The metal world was amused and amazed: much of it hadn’t yet seen an equally intelligent and pummelingly heavy release that was as expansive and open as it was dense and concise.

Following the immense praise of From Mars To Sirius and recurring trips across the Atlantic for North American touring alongside the likes of Lamb of God, Children of Bodom, and Behemoth among others, GOJIRA established its stranglehold on the extreme metal spectrum with a linguist’s touch, a lyricist’s finesse, and a crushingly heavy live show that left audiences astounded, establishing the band’s live performance as a spot-on recreation of the band’s increasingly adept and intelligent studio output.

While 2007 wrapped with GOJIRA again touring North America on the Radio Rebellion Tour alongside Behemoth to the best reaction yet, the dawn of 2008 saw a nearly 10 month wait for while the band assembled The Way of All Flesh, one of the year’s most anticipated records. This time revolving around the undeniable dilemma of a mortal demise, GOJIRA’s soundtrack to the situation seems fitting. Shifting ever-so-slightly from the eco-friendly orchestra of impending doom on From Mars To Sirius to the band’s new message of the equally uncontrollable inevitability of death, The Way of All Flesh melds the open and airy progressive passages GOJIRA has become famous for with the sonically dense sounds and bludgeoningly heavy rhythms that makes the band an equally intelligent force as it is unmatchably heavy.

Featuring a guest vocal spot on “Adoration For None” from Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe – one of GOJIRA’s most vocal supporters from their first moment making an impression in the Americas – and the now familiar Morbid Angel-isms of The Way Of All Flesh’s title track join the angular riffing more akin to Meshuggah on “Esoteric Surgery” and the epic, artful plodding of the nearly 10-minute “The Art of Dying,” showing that GOJIRA have indeed opened a new bag of tricks for The Way Of All Flesh, while not abandoning the sound that first showed a massive promise of potential on Sirius.

“It’s more inventive than From Mars To Sirius and at the same time more straight to the point,” GOJIRA frontman Joe Duplantier says of The Way of All Flesh. “The whole album is about death, death is like a step on the path of the soul. The mystery surrounding this phenomenon is just so inspiring, and death is the most common thing on earth.”

“This album is also a ‘requiem’ for our planet,” Duplantier continues. “We don't want to be negative or cynical about the fate of humanity, but the situation on Earth is growing critical, and the way humans behave is so catastrophic that we really need to express our exasperation about it. It's not fear, but anger. But we still believe that consciousness can make a difference and that we can change things as human beings.”
Devin Townsend Project
Devin Townsend Project
"The genesis of it was rooted was in the frustration of it all. Frustrated by the loud…"

For Devin Townsend, ''Casualties of Cool'' is more than just the latest release of a prolific career to-date. You probably know him as the founder of Strapping Young Lad, you might have Steve Vai's Sex & Religion, which features the Canadian metal star on vocals, or the countless other releases he's put his name to. But you can forget all that for now. For Townsend, 'Casualties of Cool' is an escape – from over 20 years of relentless productivity, of the pre-conceptions of him that come with being one of the biggest names in his sphere.

"When you're younger you do these things and of course you become the product of them" he admits. "But as your life changes, your true nature comes through and becomes overlooked in lieu of what people view you as." With metal a genre that's resisted the cultural fragmentation of our age to remain intrinsically tribal, so the family you become part of remain the overbearing baggage you can't throw off – how far do you have to go before you're not, as Devin says, "the guy in the Motley Crue t-shirt?"

It turns out he hasn't had to go far at all.
A project over four years in the making, largely at night when home from turning the dial up for the day job in the studio, 'Casualties of Cool' has seen Townsend look at himself in order to go forward. Digging out a battered old Fender amp and telecaster, he revisited the rootsy country and North American folk music of his youth. It provides the backbone of the album that's eventually come to fruition, opening with 'Daddy's' shuffling percussion and bluesy finger-picked motif, resurfacing during 'The Code's' sultry twilight atmospherics and 'Forgive Me's' hushed ambience. It's a subtly applied but vital part of this record, providing the bones for the flesh to hang from. "My childhood was full of that type of music," says Townsend. "At Christmas my grandfather would insist on the whole family sitting around singing uncomfortably along to Johnny Cash songs and Irish stuff like the Clancy Brothers. It was a big part of my childhood, it's not like I'm putting on a new hat here."
However 'Casualties of Cool' isn't a vehicle for nostalgia either; instead it uses these familiar troupes as leaping off points. Tracks like 'Moon' wind off and away towards astral planes, soft-edged textures coalescing and separating around murmured vocals; 'Bones' relatively straight-up balladry sits side-by-side 'Deathscope's' cavernous production, making for a sweet juxtaposition between that and the intentionally simplistic rockabilly that characterises its structure. Sometimes the quiet is burst open by a bright blast of saxophone or choral chanting, but always, always a sense of night-time and nature pervades.
"There's such a specific environment around my current home in Vancouver," Townsend ponders. "There are coniferous trees, it's really rugged. I find myself more and more just wanting to move north away from people. I like the rain, and the dichotomy of dark and quiet. I like being near the water or the mountains. Spending time in hot, dusty Los Angeles – for instance – in a recording studio isn't stimulating. Making Casualties I found more excuses to get in some kind of environment."

'Casualties of Cool' is a chance to switch off from our hyper-accelerated world, its relentless rush of 24/7 communication, and the competing voices that jostle for attention as they threaten to submerge our own. For Townsend, the themes of the record surround what he believes to be a bridge in his career; an acceptance of the artist he is today and embracing the fear of leaving behind what people know of him.

"The song 'The Bridge' in particular is about transcending this period as opposed to succumbing to the fear and just reverting what I've done before," he explains. "This whole album's about fear; if you're afraid of yourself or success it can be comforting to revel in that and let go - this record is like 'go for it'".

Driven simply by the desire to see how things unfolded, free of the usual recording contract constraints and subsequent limits on time, it's apt that Townsend stumbled on a supporting cast of similarly wandering souls, all revelling in their own sense of outsiderdom. The luxuriant vocals of Che Aimee have draped themselves over a previous Townsend release – 2009's Ki – and so it was perhaps no surprise that the two would find their way back to each other. Keen to keep spontaneity through every process of Casualties… creation, he refused to explain the meanings of the lyrics sent to the singer, while also encouraging her to pen her own for other tracks. "I liked the idea of the concept of the record being rooted in a duality where two people are meeting at a crossroads," he explains. Recorded by Aimee herself on her laptop, her voice is as important as the shuffling folk that permeates the record, in acting as a glue for the whole thing - her wistful tones hold together constructs so freeform at times they might disintegrate.

Like Townsend, drummer Morgan Ågren is a country boy who's found his career pinning him to the city. Having drummed for everyone from Frank Zappa to Meshuggah's Fredrik Thordendal - in a 25 year career beginning in his teenhood - the Swede found himself similarly keen for a respite from the relentless productivity that sessioning and professional collaboration required. In keeping with the spirit of the project, Townsend stumbled upon him thanks to a mutual acquaintance. With a remit to simply drum quietly ("I wanted this record to sound like an AM Radio playing in the background"), Ågren's work over the record anticipates the gradual shifts in mood that shape proceedings, playing with the space of the record and slipping any rhythmical nuances underneath the surface rather than dominating the tone. The pair got together to record the drum parts at his rural home in Sweden – a happy parallel to Townsend's own secluded Oregon surroundings.

Other guests feature too; Townsend cast back into his past in asking flutist Kat Epple to feature on the record – as a child he was blown away by her playing – while 'The Bridge' features a 50-strong Swedish choir, who come together to provide the surging climax of the album. As Townsend would readily admit himself, it's Aimee and Ågren who complete the 'Casualties of Cool', ameliorating the moniker to a positive definition. It's as a group that they renege on the trends of the music industry and the baggage they've amassed within it. This is a project set on a different plain, with space to breathe and explore unhindered, with an artistic freedom they thought they'd long since lost. "That's the whole idea of the 'Casualties of Cool'" comes the simple explanation of a project that – 20 years after his career began – introduces us to the real Devin Townsend.
Venue Information:
Starland Ballroom
570 Jernee Mill Road
Sayreville, NJ, 08872
http://www.starlandballroom.com/