Opeth live review – 14th October, O2 ABC, Glasgow
by Tobie Pettigrew
Last Tuesday, Opeth were in Glasgow and, as usual, I couldn’t resist. Touring Europe with their French shoegazing/post-metal friends Alcest, they’re in the process of promoting the release of their latest album, Pale Communion (August 2014). I’ll guiltily admit that Opeth, to me, are like the faithful partner in a long term relationship; well-proven yet familiar, whereas Alcest are new and exciting, strange and mysterious. Opeth’s retrospective transformation with Heritage (2011) and Pale Communion (2014) is, say, your wife quitting her well-paid job and converting the spacious family garage into a pottery studio. Is it immediately pleasing or familiar? No, but it could be. There are elements, both new and old, that I love about this Opeth, and Akerfeldt’s song-writing ability and musical vision, while unorthodox, has proven to be pioneering. I’ll share my thoughts about this, as well as the gig (if I can recall any of it through the alcohol-induced haze). Don’t worry, the horrible metaphor I used earlier has been buried as deep underground as Opeth’s chances of bringing out their 12th as a death metal album (I know, what a cheap blow).
The night started out fantastically. I found a tenner on the way to the O2 ABC. Was it some deep omen or allegory for the night to come? Doubtfully, just some poor sod dropping his money. This fruitfully paid for just two (and a half) £4 pints. I arrived just in time for Alcest, who unceremoniously dived into their new material. Shelter is an album both subtle and uplifting. It, like Heritage is to Opeth, announces the departure from the bands heavy, black metal-inspired sound. Fans are placated with familiar ‘hit’ Autre Temps, and metal heads with the blast beats and rasping scream vocals of ‘La Ou Naissent Les Couleurs Nouvelles’ (…breath in) from the bands previous release, ‘Les Voyages de L’ame’. The band ends their short set with ponderous ‘Deliverance’, the closing song from the new album, which cascades into ethereal post-rock style tremolo melodies accompanied by frontman Neige and guitarist Zero harmonising in choir-like falsetto fashion.
Opeth dive into the opening track from the new album, ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’, a song that tips an enormous hat to 70s prog rock (Camel, Jethro Tull) with spasmic organ melodies that are effectively co-ordinated with Axenrot’s frenzied drumming. The band transition to eerie Storm Corrosion-esque piano/flute melodies, followed by a moment of contemplation as Akerfeldt harks back to the likes of ‘For Absent Friends’ with a soulful guitar interlude. The song finally reaches a galloping chorus of warm, folky, full-bodied acoustic guitars, quirky keyboard motifs and harmonised vocals (Frederik Akesson and Joakim Svalberg surprise with their vocal ability).
As much as I appreciated the sheer breadth of influences in the opener and the new album in general, it had me yearning for ‘classic Opeth’, for the simple, elegant acoustic guitars and heartfelt crooning of Akerfeldt to the soulless, bowel-churning growls, blast beats and synchronous distorted guitars, a ‘beauty and the beast’ dynamic that made me (tentatively, at first) fall in love with the band and, dare I say, set them as pioneers of progressive melodic death metal in the ‘90s and noughties. With 8 of the 12 tracks being exactly just that, I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Some of their heaviest, most ‘evil’ tracks such as ‘Bleak’ and ‘The Moor’ are hilariously contrasted with Akerfeldt’s usual comic patter. He informs the crowd that fellow Swedish pop group ‘Abba’ once sang about Glasgow, and imitates fans who stubbornly yell out for the band to ‘play some old shit’.
Opeth are a band that seem unrelenting in the quality of their musicianship and song-writing. Mikael’s growls during the gig show no sign of faltering which, after over 20 years, is nothing short of impressive. There is little left of the original band bar Akerfeldt and Martin Mendez, whose roots in Latin and jazz bass merely add to the colourful tapestry of a dynamic and ever-changing band. Each new member, however, plays a vital and unique role in the development of Opeth. If the gig taught me anything, it’s that if anyone can pull off what Mikael Akerfeldt’s next grand undertaking is, it’ll be them. As the band end with ‘Deliverance’, a near 14-minute classic about murder, despair and demonic possession, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about what the band used to be. With Heritage and Pale Communion, Akerfeldt hasn’t started a new chapter; he has begun writing a new book. Perhaps it’s selfish and small-minded to expect more of the same. Regardless, while I don’t feel as attached to the new Opeth, I feel like their musical identity is entirely uncertain and unpredictable, and a future, full of potential, has opened up in the wake of this transitional period.