Tag Archives: Opeth

November Gig Madness – Opeth

Second part of my November gig spree was under the effects of a bad cold, which at it’s worst had me off work for two days. And I think I caught it at the Heep gig.

Sunday night was back to Manchester Academy 1, and Opeth, for night of Swedish death metal that goes ‘Grrrrrr’

I’ve afraid I don’t remember an awful lot about the two supports, Cynic and The Ocean. One was all cookie-monster metal, the other more proggy with 100% clean vocals. Both quite enjoyable at the time, but not terribly memorable at the a week later, although the combination of lemsip and beer that kept me going probably didn’t help.

Opeth themselves are a lot more than a pure metal band nowadays; either that or metal has developed tremendously as a genre since Tony Iommi first started playing tritones through a fuzzbox. Their sound has been described as ‘symphonic’ – not in the sense of big sweeping keyboards, but in their complex multi-layered song structures, with twin-guitar harmonies and strange time-signatures. They completely eschew anything as conventional as ordinary verses and choruses, and typically include piledriving heavyness, gentle semi-acoustic sections, and densely intricate instrumental passages, usually in the same lengthy song. Mikael Åkerfeldt lead vocals alternate between harsh growls and soaring ‘clean’ vocals.

The awesomely tight band reproduce all that dense swirling sound from their albums note-for-note, helped by a clear (and not deafeningly loud) sound. Their 90-minute set included just eight songs, including two, ‘Heir Apparent’ and ‘The Lotus Eaters’ from the new album “Watershed”. Difficult to single out a single high spot, but it was nice to hear ‘Deliverance’ and ‘The Drapery Falls’.

Opeth might just sound like a wall of noise to the uninitiated, and it took me a long time to ‘get’ them, especially Åkerfeldt’s Cookie Monster growls. Live, they’re just magnificent.

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Opeth – Watershed

Swedish death prog metallers Opeth have done it again! I wondered if their ninth album “Watershed” could possibly top 2005′s superb “Ghost Reveries”. But with this new one, they’ve taken their mix of Scandinavian cookie-monster death metal and 70s pastoral English prog to yet another level.

There’s a bit less of the old cookie monster on this one; Michael Åkerfeldt sings ‘clean’ on quite a few of the heavier parts as well as the many quieter sections. But the appeal to me has always been the complex symphonic instrumentation rather than the vocals, with Åkerfeldt’s voice as another instrument. These guys are superb musicians, but never once descend into self-indulgent widdling. Åkerfeldt comes over as a composer first, and a muso second. And that’s how it should be.

It’s got all the trademark Opeth sounds; dense swirling guitars, piledrivingly heavy sections giving way to gentler acoustic passages, and some beautiful twin guitar harmonies with Michael Åkerfeldt and new guitarist Fredrik Åkesson. Per Wiberg’s keys are more fully integrated into the band’s sound on this disk; check out the fantastic Hammond organ solo on “Burden” (And I bet that’s a genuine B3, not a synth with a Hammond patch!). And naturally there’s plenty of Mellotron.

While there are still many extremely heavy moments, the balance seems tilted slightly more in favour of quieter more atmospheric parts; you can hear a strong Camel influence in one or two places. Out-and-out metal fans might not rate it quite as highly as their early work, but prog fans who liked their decidedly non-metal “Damnation” will find much here to enjoy. For me, its the contrast between the lighter and heavier sides of their music that accounts for a lot of their appeal.

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Opeth/Paradise Lost, Manchester Academy 1, 10-Nov-2006

Sweden’s death metal meets prog rock Opeth are probably an acquired taste. If the first time you listen to Opeth’s music, you think ‘What on Earth is that racket’, then your reaction won’t have been dissimilar to mine. But listen a few more times. Once you get beneath the surface you’ll begin to appreciate their dense and multi-layered sound. Their eight studio albums are filled with songs typically lasting ten minutes or more, which have little as straightforward as identifiable verses or choruses. Piledrivingly heavy sections frequently give way to gentle semi-acoustic sections. Vocals vary from death metal ‘Cookie Monster’ style to some quite mellow ‘clean’ vocals. And it all meshes together perfectly to create something almost symphonic in scope.

Last time Opeth came to Manchester, their show in the smaller Academy 2 sold out before I could get hold a ticket. On their return, they played the larger Academy 1, and I made sure I got a ticket early. I wasn’t going to miss them a second time.

Support was Yorkshire doom metallers Paradise Lost, veterans of sixteen years and eight albums. Due to the show starting 15 minutes earlier than advertised, I spend two or three minutes too long in the pub (talking to a couple of Mostly Autumn fans, as it happens; they get everywhere!), and missed the beginning of their opening number. They delivered a consummate and professional 45 minute set before an appreciative audience, concentrating on their earlier, heavier material, although the very Goth ‘One Second’ album got a good airing. It almost seemed that they were the headliners at times, which is a sign of a good performance. The only thing that annoys me about their sound is their insistence on using programmed keyboards on quite a few songs. Please, guys, since the keys are such an integral part of the sound, get yourself a flesh-and-blood keyboard player and make it 100% live!

Opeth took the stage at nine, and for the next two hours proved that their reputation as a great act is fully justified. They can indeed reproduce the full majesty of their material live, and the songs come over incredibly well in a live setting. They had that very rare combination extreme tightness and ferocious energy levels, something you very rarely get in the same band. The guitar sound was crystal-clear, the often very complex twin guitar harmonies coming over perfectly. The intense heavy sections turned the hall into a sea of flying hair, then the quiet reflective parts came in just in time to get your breath back. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s lead vocals were quite low in the mix, especially for the ‘Cookie Monster’ parts. This actually works quite well, and I think the mix was intentional. He was certainly clear enough when he sang ‘clean’.

Not satisfied with being a great guitar player and composer, Mikael Åkerfeldt is also a superb frontman with a great sense of humour. Between the songs he regaled us with tales from the band’s early history, made the audience play ‘guess this tune’ by playing various intros, and told us how the drummer allegedly turns into a psychopath when under the influence of Coca-Cola.

While they played quite a bit of their latest opus, “Ghost Reveries”, the setlist also drew heavily from their early albums “Orchid”, “Morningrise” and “My Arms, Your Hearse” rather than other more recent releases, which meant that I didn’t know a good proportion of the set; it sounds like I’ve got some CD buying to do!

Overall, superb show, up there with the best I’ve seen this year. This is a band I’ll be seeing again next time they come to town.

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