Opeth

live review

November 2012

 

 

 

her-it-age         /’heritij/

 

1. Valued qualities such as cultural traditions and historic buildings that have been passed down from previous generations.

 

2. A special or individual possession; an allotted portion.

 

3. Tangled thickets of arrhythmia and pseudo-structure decorated with complex, frenetic melodies and meandering percussion; Opeth’s tenth studio album.

 

Released little over a year ago, Heritage proved divisive among fans. Many advocates of Opeth’s habitual occult and death metal direction took umbrage at their challenging new content, devoid of harsh vocals and violent disposition. Though beneath its airy surface, Heritage is as dark and knotted as anything Opeth have committed to tape.

 

The tour immediately following the album’s release challenged fans further. It saw Opeth play sets entirely devoid of harsh vocals, despite containing material from albums other than Heritage.

 

One year later, on the European Heritage Tour, there’s ostensibly no real connection to Heritage other than the words on my ticket and the image on the drumhead. Opeth seem unconcerned with promoting an album already met with widespread critical acclaim, despite its naysayers. It’s been a year; it’s time to shake things up.

 

Opeth wade through the fog and onto the stage. The Devil’s Orchard has proved a solid opening track at recent dates. It does tonight. Eventually Åkerfeldt’s calm proclamations of God’s death give way to gloom as the lights dip, plunging the smoke and the band into darkness.

 

To any uninitiated, Åkerfeldt’s candor soon becomes apparent. He’s a man who loves to talk, loves the spotlight. The spotlight loves him. During intermissions the dark tendrils anchoring the band to its black metal roots recede and the show adopts a lighter, comedic feel. Apt, as the spiel is genuinely amusing. Åkerfeldt’s arid banter generates laughter eclipsed only by the roaring excitement that accompanies the next few chords.

 

Mere seconds of calm allow the audience to adjust its feet before the almighty storm that is Ghost of Perdition. The audience is excited not just because they’re hearing a fan favourite, a sublime song, but because they know it signifies tonight isn’t about Opeth’s latest album. It’s about Opeth.

 

After vanishing into the dark again Åkerfeldt reappears in the spotlight. He says he can’t see us for the smoke. It doesn’t matter. We can see him.

 

We’re told the next song mixes death metal with pop. We’re excited. What could it be? White Cluster. Throughout the show Opeth’s capricious musical tendencies prove difficult for the flailing audience to handle. Everyone around me thrashes, but when sudden tempo shifts give way to melodic interludes they’re at a loss. All they can do is stand and wait for the song to regain its danger.

 

Åkerfeldt reemerges from the dark again to introduce a song from “at the time, an experimental album”. He’s referring to Damnation, an acoustic album recorded in tandem with Deliverance in 2002. Each track on Damnation is as pretty as the last, tonight we are treated to Hope Leaves.

 

The next song is a power ballad and was supposed to be Opeth’s hit single, or so Åkerfeldt would have us believe. It didn’t work out that way. Though it could have. Burden is a painfully beautiful song. But unfortunately, tonight Joakim Svalberg’s spectacular keyboard solo is mostly lost to the surrounding sound.

 

Throughout the show Åkerfeldt asks Martin Mendez whether his bass is in tune. Mendez, unlike his vocalist, is a man of few words. He offers the crowd a reassuring thumbs up. “Bass is very important”, Åkerfeldt tells us.

 

After two comparatively light tracks the crowd is baying for barbarity. The next track is introduced as a lullaby, “the most beautiful piece of music ever written”. Much of this seasoned audience is a step ahead of Åkerfeldt. “…the complete opposite”, they whisper behind me. They’re right. This isn’t a lullaby. This is Deliverance.

 

Åkerfeldt introduces a song the band “loves to play”, a song that’s “quite technical”. He doesn’t tell us the title. He never does. But most of the audience don’t require such assistance; we know it’s Hessian Peel.

 

Heritage gave us many irregular works. Famine is one of them. Åkerfeldt states it has no real structure, but the crowd knows it, and they wait for drummer Martin Axenrot’s cue to dance his sticks across his kit and usher in its doom-laden second half.

 

The audience shout themselves hoarse during the set’s finale, Harlequin Forest. Though sadly, tonight much of Åkerfeldt’s death growls seem lost in translation among the varying frequencies of downtuned guitars.

 

Spent, Opeth leave the stage. Nobody moves. We know they’re coming back.

 

They return as a group but not entirely together. Before Opeth, it’s One Night with Mikael Åkerfeldt. He playfully engages the crowd as a comedian would, discussing Deep Purple, Exodus, Motörhead and Sam Gopal for five minutes. He calls us cunts a few times too. It’s in jest of course, a twisted term of endearment. He introduces the band, for which the crowd is grateful. Then, amid pleas for The Grand Conjuration, Demon of the Fall and The Drapery Falls, we’re told tonight ends on a “long song”, a “headbanging kind of song”, Blackwater Park.

 

Nobody is disappointed.

 

 

watch this John Robb in conversation with Opeth

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