Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
Always almost impossible to categorise, Opeth have always cut their own singular path through the choppy waters of life as a band, their blend of Progressive and Death Metal mixed with elements of folk, jazz and classical music setting them apart.
The reward for their unique vision is a devoted legion of fans who have hung on every note and the freedom to do whatever they want, their muse able to roam where it wishes.
For once though the tables were turned somewhat, the Swedish quintet having had their career
spanning set list dictated by an online poll where the fans voted for their picks of one song each from their thirteen studio albums.
It was always a bit of a gamble, the selections throwing up deeper cuts and seriously challenging material to play live along with some well-known favourites but one that the band gladly embraced and making it night to truly remember.
With little fanfare, Opeth have always seemed the most unfussy of bands, Mikael Åkerfeldt and his merry troupe stepping onstage and starting the gentle stroll that informs the beginning of ‘Ghost of Perdition’ as it launches within seconds into a crushing cathedral of sound. It’s a weighty start, a ten-minute blast of twisting prog, staccato rhythms, snarling guitars and vocals that switch from the growled to the whispered, the whole running the gamut from light to shade.
The effect is mesmerising and as ‘Demon of the Fall’ hits its stride the stalls become a sea of headbanging bodies, all moving as one to its insistent riffing.
“Friday night in Bruges!” jokes the frontman after its delicate end, Åkerfeldt’s dry sense of humour and lack of a need to please informing his onstage persona. It’s true that Opeth aren’t the most visually dynamic band, preferring to let the music do the talking rather than throwing themselves around the stage whilst playing as per the likes of Iron Maiden and others, but this suits them in a uber cool Swedish way. Instead, screens that frame the drums and keyboards are the visual focus tonight, specially shot and curated videos illustrating the feel of the songs as the band weave their magic.
The almost medieval pastoral cadence of ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ shifts smoothly to its 1970’s psychodelia, the lava lamp effects on the video screen heightening the atmosphere. Going right back, ‘Under the Weeping Moon’ from their ‘Orchid’ debut gives us the death metal underbelly of their early days, the blackest of blacks seeping into shafts of light as the broken howl of the vocals seems to have escaped from the deepest, darkest pits. By contrast, ‘Windowpane’ is a much more leisurely outing as
it curls and twists in the air like smoke, delicate vocals, the burbling bass of Martin Méndez and Walterri Väyrynen’s drums jazzy feel layered with Joakim Svalberg’s dappled keys and the darting fretwork of Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson.
Things reached fever pitch when halfway through the set the band broke into ‘Black Rose Immortal’, the twenty-minute epic that graced sophomore release ‘Morningrise’ and became the biggest challenge to play live when they saw the list of requested numbers Åkerfeldt admitted.
The effort was more than worth it and its blackened metal meets Thin Lizzy Celtic rock was breath taking all the way to the galloping finish, arguably the biggest triumph of the evening. It was though, an evening of highs, some like the e-bow touches during ‘Burden’ or the circle pit inducing fury of ‘The Moor’ showing Opeth’s power from the tiniest brush strokes to the widescreen canvasses.
By the time the home run of an electrifying ‘Sorceress’ and the visceral attack meets gossamer warmth of ‘Deliverance’ close the night it was all that could have been hoped for and much more. Whilst you’re never going to be able to satisfy everyone’s specific song choice wishes, the selection played gave the perfect overview of this most inventive, intelligent and blistering band. One of the most artful yet unpretentiously engaging bands to emerge in the past few decades, Opeth continue to astound.