“We are bringing death metal into the fine halls of culture” announced Mikael Akerfeldt at one point during the second half of tonight’s performance. He was not wrong. Looking around the almost sold out Royal Albert Hall in the middle of a ten minute long Death Metal epic was a very surreal experience. I’m sure when the Albert Hall was built all those years ago they didn’t forsee in 2010 there would be young men and women sat there headbanging away to the likes of Advent and The Leper Affinity watching Opeth celebrate their 20th year as a band.
My one complaint with the otherwise magnificent venue in South Kensington is that their admissions procedure was an absolute joke. At our entrance they were not conducting proper searches, just taking peoples tickets off them and replacing them with wristbands, yet it seemed to take a couple of minutes for the line to move forward a single person. As a result we (very fortuitously) arrived on the standing floor section (something else I’m sure doesn’t happen regularly at the RaH) just as the opening bars of The Leper Affinity kicked in to signify the beginning of Blackwater Park being played in its entirety.
While all Opeth albums have their appeal (if you like that sort of thing, obviously) Blackwater Park seemed an excellent choice for performing in its entirety, being both their breakthrough album and one of their most varied pieces of work. One minute you had the air turning Death Growls and double kick drums of The Funeral Portrait, the next you had the ethereal, almost minstrel like qualities of Harvest (more references of minstrels later). The sound quality was absolutely magnificent, the mix was spot on and everything could be heard to perfection, which is just as well as this show deserved nothing else.
The usually talkative Mikael did not utter a word during the Blackwater Park run through, pausing only to tell everyone to “shhh” when people were shouting things inbetween The Drapery Falls and Dirge For November, although it must be said the peon who shouted out “play some f**king heavy metal” when they were playing the sublime Harvest needed to be taken out of the building and thrown into the King’s Road traffic.
The dark, crushing title track of the album brought the first half of the evening to a close, with Mikael announcing they’d be back in 20 minutes. It almost seemed rediculous that this was the halfway point as you would have been more than satisfied if that had been the whole show. The second half kicked off with the epic Forest For October from first album Orchid, cue a return to the headbanging in the stalls of the Albert Hall. After this latest 10 minute plus death metal/prog masterwork, the previously quiet Mikael decided to talk to everyone.
“Not too shabby” he comments dryly staring up the ceiling to much laughter. “There’s a lot of things I wanna say, because they’ve never been said in here before (cue cheers)…C**t! (cue louder cheers). I walked in here this morning to have a cup of coffee and I sat down and thought this place is really huge. Fuck!” If he had not been born with the creative musical genius and ended up being in Opeth, surely an alternative career as a stand-up would have beckoned, his dry wit and put downs are of legendary status as he regularly had the Albert Hall in stitches (as tends to happen at most Opeth gigs).
Mikael then informed us of the format of the second half of the evening, that we would get one song from each Opeth album in chronological order (apart from Blackwater Park, obviously) and introduced Advent from Morningrise, much to the delight of fellow rocksins correspondant Matt Hill who proceeded to go apes**t. It was a thoroughly popular choice and circle headbanging was seen from many with long heads of hair whipping others in the process. Things didn’t let up as the selection from third album My Arms Your Hearse was April Ethereal (“By this time, we had stopped being quite so minstrelly and turned to darker thoughts”), before unleashing one of the bands finest death-prog creations to date, The Moor from the wonderful Still Life.
At one point when it all went quiet, Mikael mentioned that he had met Bruce Dickinson earlier in the day, so someone from the audience shouted out “did he fly you over on his plane?”. Mikael just stood there for a minute before asking “is that supposed to be funny? maybe in England, but in Sweden that shit wouldn’t be funny….Fuck Sweden” all the while with an enormous grin on his face. Not to be outdone, the other members of Opeth all looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves too, headbanging away, even drummer Martin Axenrot.
The dark, thunderous Wreath was the selection from the Deliverance album, before the wonderful calm of Hope Leaves from its counterpart Damnation. A lot of people think that in spite of the monumentous back catalogue, Opeth’s finest work has come in their two most recent creations. To that end, we were treated to Reverie/Harlequin Forest from the fantastic Ghost Reveries, before the night was finished off with a personal favourite of mine (and one of the best Opeth songs to headbang to), The Lotus Eater from Watershed.
A thoroughly genius, triumphant evening in what I think now was the only venue fitting for an event such as this. There isn’t another band on the planet like Opeth and in terms of musicianship, only their good friends in Dream Theater can come anywhere close to matching them, but I think even Dream Theater would have struggled to match this. A flawless performance from one of the defining metal bands of their generation. Lets just hope, after 20 years, there is still plenty more to come.
P.S. I just hope they got to take their Deep Purple-esque photo at the end like Mikael wanted (it only makes sense if you were there 🙂 ).
The setlist for Opeth XX: An Evolution was:
Part 1: Blackwater Park
The Leper Affinity
The Drapery Falls
Dirge for November
The Funeral Portrait
Patterns in the Ivy
Forest of October
The Lotus Eater