"Big gig today, people, big gig".
Okay, I finally got around to seeing Opeth live at Royal Albert Hall with a bunch of fans, and as usual with Opeth, as far as I am concerned, it is a real hit and miss affair. Parts of the concert send me into bliss with gorgeous guitars and vocals and amazing dextrous lead guitar with choppy riffs, and parts make me search for the skip button. Okay let's get past the first point of concern for me; the concert is perhaps designed for the younger target audience who prefer death metal growls over actual singing. To be honest there is a heck of a lot of gravel voice vocals on this, more than I expected or wished, as I have 4 albums and there are definitely large chunks without growling on albums; though not so here. Unfortunately, this live performance really focuses on the heavier side of Opeth with only the occasional let up in speed and growling. When Akerfeldt sings clean vocals it is mesmirising so I wish he'd shut the dang death growls up as it is really not that impressive. The band play all of Blackwater Park but I would have preferred Still Life.
Another point about the DVD is that the crowd are rather a subdued lot. Their preferred colour is black and mostly guys are present with a smattering of females. The crowd stand still, not much bouncing and moshing as they are there to listen I guess, not have a full body thrash work out. They are definitely into the music and enjoying it, but it is not a mosh session, which shows how different Opeth are in comparison to death metal bands that incite a virtual riot when playing live. The crowd are head banging and raising the horns as you expect. You can hear then yell out stuff during the pauses between tracks, at times quite amusing too.
Yet another point to make about this live DVD is it really is a no frills concert, a bit of smoke and some cool lighting, occasional strobes and an ominous glowing logo with the large screen showing pictures of forests and water, and album covers, to generate a part of the atmosphere, with nice swirling lights cascading across the transfixed crowd. The band pretty much stand in the one place and thrash one track after another, and head bang during the instrumentals. They don't speak much at all at first. At one point Akerfeldt pretends he is going to say something and then stops and just plays; quite a humorous touch. At the end of 'April Ethereal', Akerfeldt begins to open up, he does mention that the band have gone through changes; "a few people have been (pause) fired (laughter) and we have a new lineup". He then intros the guys that are new to rapturous applause. Then he mentions how he used to write when he was too poor to afford a demo and recording equipment. He just wrote things like the Morbid Angel riff 4 times, freaked out bridge and the Bathory section. Ironically I referenced those two bands on my review for Still Life ("The growling reminded me of the black metal I used to listen to with the likes of Bathory or Morbid Angel.") so I wasn't far off the mark as Opeth definitely are influenced by this extreme metal sound. Akerfeldt mentions that Still Life is their most complicated album and then proceeds to play the awesome 'The Moor' from this.
From the beautiful acoustic guitar, it leads to the familiar distorted riffs that blast in without remorse. Akerfeldt's growls are brutal and soul chilling. There is a clean vocal chorus and it is so refreshing. I longed for more of this. At 6 minutes in the riffing stops and we have an acoustic interlude, a moment of respite. The Damnation style clean vocals chime in and they are so good, like a different band. I was drawn into the music at this point. At the end of 'The Moor' Akerfeldt asks "was it good?" which is funny as obviously the response would be a massive roar. He tells the tale of how Steven Wilson emailed him once. The crowd roars at hearing that name mentioned in their presence. He goes onto say that "we hooked up, had dinner, kissed, and I asked him to produce the next record which was gonna be Blackwater Park." But Steve was also involved in Deliverance "making it more sick and evil and twisted" he continues, and he says they should play something nice as they are in such a nice environment "but we want to be bad." I kind of like these moments as it shows the humour of the band and their personalities come through.
Another point about this section of the concert during 'The Wreath', is that Akerfeldt snaps a string and does a very fast guitar switch. His hand signal to the roadie is interesting as he just stops playing but keeps growling away. The roadie just hands him a new guitar and plugs it in as Akerfeldt screams "cover me with sweat" and he just hooks it over his shoulder and starts playing it as if nothing happened. Well worth checking that out. Axe's drumming should be commended too as it is fantastic, though many might miss the style of Lopez of course. I liked his cymbals with holes in them. 'The Wreath' is a thrashy fast thing that has the cookie monster vocals, (I know, I stole that phrase from a reviewer here but that's what it is) and I prefer Oscar the Grouch vocals myself. 'The Wreath' comes from my least favourite Opeth album but was tolerable due to the amazing chord changes and structure.
In the pause between the songs, a girl yells out that she loves Akerfeldt, and he replies "how you doin'?" as he seems quite shy and nervous which is better than being obnoxious of course. The girl has leaped over the barricade and as she is escorted off by guards everyone applauds. Akerfeldt says it's a long show for a metal singer but luckily he still has a bit of voice. At this stage I was hoping that meant he would sing some quieter stuff. He does the beautiful 'Hope Leaves' from Damnation and of course it is a highlight for my ears. I love that album and every song on it is compelling; in fact that is how I came to know Opeth so it is personally one of my favourite moments of the show. The purple and blue lights with sparkling logo give the stage an ethereal appearance.
Then next is a moment of brilliance from Ghost Reveries, 'Harlequin Forest'. I must admit the concert was improving for me as the band moved onto the more progressive sound. The concert ends with Watershed's 'The Lotus Eater', which is of course is excellent as always. Akerfeldt mentions the leaving of Peter and Martin and intros the new members again. Axe has dyed his hair just for this concert, he says. This track is a masterful progressive thing with amazing time changes and innovation throughout. This time Fred breaks a string, or has a technical goof, and stuffs up his solo and it is quite humorous how he plays silently while the roadie tries to rig up a new guitar. Akerfeldt and the others watch with amusement as Fred is hooked up. The crowd quietly clap observing with interest. When Fred begins to play again there is a roar and the whole thing is an unforgettable moment. The band could easily have edited this out but kudos for keeping it in as it provides some entertaining and interesting footage. I believe in the interview mention is made of how a camera man stepped on a pedal and screwed up the sound, and these moments are what make this concert so compelling, as it is a raw concert DVD with all the mistakes unedited but left for us to talk about. There were some conversations about this section with the guys I watched with. It actually provided more intelligent conversations than the rest of the DVD which were basically phrases like, "awesome, unbelievable, shredder, what's he on about, Axe is better, I miss Lopez, and, shut those bloody growls up." At the end the band have a photo opportunity with lots of Opeth addicts and after a bow it is over with a standing ovation.
The special features are generally similar to Pain of Salvation, and Dream Theatre DVDs, in that they show a lot of behind the scenes stuff, tour footage, some interviews, fans spouting off "I am dead serious when I say Mikael Akerfeldt is the reincarnation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart", and a few outtakes from songs. They sign CDs and apparel, take photos of fans and talk at the fans meet and greet, one says "best day ever" and another is shivering with excitement. The sound check was intriguing, done in front of some chosen fans. I like the comment when they are heading down the stairwell to the stage and we hear someone say "It's Spinal Tap." We see a bit of the clean up afterwards, meeting fans back stage who are terminally polite and grateful and Fredrik turns to the camera and says, "you are nothing without your fans never forget that", and there are roadies loading the trucks while the band have a quiet drink with friends. In the truck Fred talks about the mistakes but said they were part of it all after months of build up and the tension they felt. We see Opeth hanging round bars and visiting a Deli with an eccentric owner, and we see them in the trucks getting drunker and funnier.These moments were highlights for me and held more interest than the actual concert.
Overall, this is a great concert for Opeth addicts of course, there are quieter moments but you have to search for them, but it delivers the heavier side of the band with brutal aggression. That is the target audience and it definitely is an extreme sound, and the Opeth fans sitting with me are obviously under the impression that it is a flawless DVD. Seeing past the fan boyism it really is not a masterpiece at all but certainly an excellent live record of the very special event. Personally I look forward to them touring Heritage as that would be worth seeing.