What stately surroundings to celebrate the grand conjurors of extreme metal’s 20th anniversary! As the ever sardonic Mikael Åkerfeldt so gleefully pointed out, they are probably the most extreme band ever to play there, and almost certainly the first band to call their audience “c*nts” in this regal auditorium. A night of firsts then, for this was the fist time Opeth’s seminal Blackwater Park in its entirety on British soil.
The biggest UK show they’ve ever played, it wasn’t sold out, a fact for which I for one was thankful, as it resulted in my crappy seat situated where the air is thinner and sound crapper being upgraded to a prime location in the stalls right behind the sound desk. The venue certainly felt pretty full as the house lights went down and Opeth embarked on a marathon 3 hours set (with 20 minutes interval).
This was a game of two halves – first, the revisiting of that landmark album. A turning point for the band and perhaps for extreme metal as a whole, Blackwater Park is rendered here pretty much note perfect save for a lounge rendition of Harvest. The only real surprise is that Åkerfeldt remained uncharacteristically silent, eschewing all stage banter, and let the music do the talking. Opeth’s music is nothing if not consistent and although Blackwater Park may stand out of their distinguished back catalogue, it’s by no means overshadows the rest in a way that, say, Rust in Peace (recently also played live in its entirety) does with Megadeth’s. Placed by many as one of best albums so far this century, it plays out like a bludgeoning yet beautiful mass, but in the context of the second half clearly feels like a celebration of the legend that is Opeth rather than Blackwater Park itself.
So 20 minutes to take a breather – quickly shuffle out to neck a 4 quid bottle of beer (no drinks in the auditorium!) – then back for the ‘mystery’ second half. Most of the audience would have guessed the direction of the remainder of the set as soon as Opeth started playing debut album Orchid’s Forest of October – a song off of every album (save Blackwater Park) played in chronological order. Unlike the first half, Åkerfeldt wasn’t about to stay silent and as he took us on a guided tour of the bands history. The singer’s stage banter is by now legendary and formed the very back bone of the second half. Spurred on by the regal surroundings he was at his most irreverent and blasphemous. Quite understandably, Mikael and team are glad to be here, but it was no easy road as Åkerfeldt talked us through tales of poverty, constant lineup changes and love embraces with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. OK, so this is no Confessions of Motley Crue, but it’s the way you tell them eh?
Opeth are precision musicians. Every note, beat and roar is delivered with surgical precision. The Albert Hall was made to have music, in all it’s subtle and complex forms, played in it, so predictably the sound was crystal clear – the feeble sound of the rapturous audience almost lost in the cavernous acoustics. But somehow Mikel and crew managed to make this enormous shrine to music feel intimate – more like a comedy club than an 8000 capacity theatre.
Second half playlist:
- Forest of October (Orchid)
- Advent (Morningrise)
- April Ethereal (My Arms Your Hearse)
- The Moor (Still Life)
- Wreath (Deliverance)
- Hope Leaves (Damnation)
- Reverie/Harlequin Forest (Ghost Reveries)
- The Lotus Eater (Watershed)
This half of the show was dubbed Evolution XX which implies a great change, but although Opeth have certainly progressed through these two decades, there’s no sense here of a band ascending from base, primitive or naïve beginnings to a majestic prime. Earlier tracks may have less bombast than their more recent counterparts, but these tracks form a coherent continuum that coexist to the point that they would happily sit on the same album. Opeth’s career, in many fans’ eyes, is bisected by a singly album – Still Life – your preference (or exclusive patronage) exists for one half, or the other. But I challenge anyone listening to this set to claim that Opeth are not one of the most consistently brilliant bands on the planet.
A celebration indeed – of Opeth, of metal, of guitars and drums and noise and all things that are good in the world.gig, Opeth, progressive, Progressive Metal