Although doors were not to open for another couple of hours, dozens of fans had already begun to line the sidewalk along West 34th Street in Midtown Manhattan. On a chilly night that finally felt like autumn, we were greeted by a small team of security personnel who checked our COVID-19 vaccination records and fastened our bright yellow wristbands. Once the doors did open, shortly after 6:00 pm, we were quickly ushered into the confines of the warm lobby. After securing my media credentials at the box office and heading into the Hammerstein Ballroom, a turn-of-the-century opera house that was extensively renovated in 1997, I was immediately taken aback by the elaborate architectural decorations – complete with box seats, three balconies, a proscenium arch and a hand-painted ceiling mural depicting an “orchestra of angels on a heavenly stage” 75-feet above.
At 7:00 pm sharp, the house lights went dark and the opening number (titled “Intro”) by the Swiss avant-garde black-metal band, Zeal & Ardor, established the menacing mood for the show to follow. “Wake Of A Nation,” the title track from their first EP released in October 2020, was next. Zeal & Ardor, a sextet opening the 15-show North American tour in support of Opeth and Mastodon, performed three songs from their widely-praised second studio album, “Stranger Fruit” (2018), including the gospel-style “Gravedigger’s Chant.” Four more songs from their self-titled third studio album, due out in February 2022, were also performed – the aggressive “Run,” “Church Burns,” the riff-heavy “Götterdämmerung” and the set closer, “Death to The Holy.” By the end of their 30-minute set, the general admission audience had already jam-packed the entire ground floor of the historic venue, from the rail to the rear, and even spilled into the lobby.
ZEAL & ARDOR Setlist:
Intro / Wake Of A Nation / Church Burns / Götterdämmerung / Ship On Fire / Gravedigger’s Chant / Run / We Can’t Be Found / Death To The Holy
During the first intermission, sweating bodies of concertgoers patiently waited in anticipation for the first of the show’s coheadliner, Opeth, to take the stage. Hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, Opeth are a progressive metal band formed in 1989. Only four days after the surprise announcement that longtime drummer Martin “Axe” Axenrot exited the group “due to a conflict of interests,” Sami Karppinen of Therion stepped in to keep the tour alive. Opeth’s set commenced with “Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör,” a song from their thirteenth studio album, and most recent work to date, “In Cauda Venenum” (2019). The Swedish quintet continued to play for well over an hour, incorporating a fan favorite collection of their work that spanned 21-years (1998 to 2019) and eight different studio albums, including “Demon Of The Fall”, “The Drapery Falls”, “Windowpane” and the wickedly psychedelic “The Devil’s Orchard”. Before their final song of the night, the title track from their sixth studio album “Deliverance” (2002), front-man Mikael Åkerfeldt announced to the crowd that “we hope we’ll be able to come back soon.” Listening to the roar of the crowd behind me, I was pretty sure that the feeling was mutual.
Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör (Heart In Hand) / Demon Of The Fall / Cusp Of Eternity / The Devil’s Orchard / The Drapery Falls / Windowpane / Sorceress / Deliverance
Following a second intermission, the remaining co-headliner Mastodon, another masterful progressive metal quartet from Atlanta, Georgia, came to the stage. Formed in 2000, Mastodon is touring in support of their new studio double album, “Hushed & Grim”, released this past Halloween in tribute to former manager and close friend Nick John. Taken from the new album, the first of their fourteen offerings was “Pain with an Anchor,” executed with a mosh-worthy intensity and wrought in heaviness. Throughout the duration of the night, Troy Sanders, with clean vocals that were coupled with his harsh, signature style, would deliver to Mastodon fans several more compositions from their new studio album (and eighth overall), including “The Crux,” the mournful “Teardrinker,” “Skeleton Of Splendor,” the lead single “Pushing The Tides,” “More Than I Could Chew” and the slow, brooding groove that is “Gobblers Of Dregs.” culminating with their classic “Blood and Thunder,” taken from 2004’s “Leviathan.”
Over the next couple of weeks, this fantastic coast-to-coast fall trek will continue, until concluding at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, Colorado on December 5th.
Pain With An Anchor / Crystal Skull / Megalodon / The Crux / Teardrinker / Bladecatcher / Black Tongue / Skeleton Of Splendor / The Czar / Pushing The Tides / More Than I Could Chew / Mother Puncher / Gobblers Of Dregs / Blood and Thunder