Opeth – The Institute, Birmingham
Having been unable to get to the Bristol date of the Pale Communion tour it was a first ever visit to The Institute in Birmingham to check out the last leg of Opeth’s UK tour. Getting to Birmingham at tea time on any evening is always a massive ball ache but with the gods on our side we made it shortly after doors opened and in good time for openers Alcest.
I have a lot of time for French outfit Alcest. Their music is moving and emotional and Shelter earlier this year was a quite beautiful release (see review earlier this year in MoM). This was my fourth viewing of them in the live arena, following their magnificent headline set in the Sophie Tent at BOA in 2012 and two stints as support on the last Katatonia tour. A short set consisting of five songs represented their works from their four albums. Opening with Opale from Shelter, Neige’s voice was initially lost in the grubby mix, overwhelmed by an overpowering bass line. Alcest need a clean mix to highlight the nuances and complexities in their compositions and once it was sorted their quality began to shine through. Heavier live than on record, Neige’s vocals vary from clean to death growl. Autre Temps followed, Winterhalter’s powerful drumming looking easy. Indria’s bass playing blends perfectly whilst Zero’s guitar playing combines with Neige’s to provide the riffage alongside the shoe gazing. Zero’s backing vocals were excellent and look very strange coming out of a mountain of a man. Closing with Deliverance from Shelter, Alcest received a very warm reaction from the packed crowd, even from me who had been dozing off; we call that the Alcest effect! Warm and dreamy, they really do make you lose yourself for a few minutes at time. 8/10
Opeth are fast approaching classic status. After over 20 years in the business, a band much loved by many (yours truly included) and surely but slowly but surely increasing in status, they also attract quite a lot of negativity from members of the metal community. There are those who feel that they have lost their heaviness and abandoned their black metal roots with their last two albums moving effortlessly to a progressive and 70s sound far removed from their debut Orchid. How wrong they are. What we were treated to was an absolute master class in metal and how to construct the perfect set list. This was my 11th evening with Mr Akerfeldt and company, and with the exception of the sensation Albert Hall gig in 2010 this was the best set list and performance I think I've ever witnessed. As the strains of Through Pain To Heaven faded out, the band launched into a double header from Pale Communion; Eternal Rains Will Come and Cusp Of Eternity. Opeth had a few dates before Birmingham to get used to playing these live and both were pretty astounding; heavier than on the album but also allowing the delicate and clear tones of Akerfeldt to come to the fore. Any suggestion that this was going to be a set consisting of the quieter side of Opeth was immediately blown away as a thunderous Bleak blasted any cobwebs away. As usual, Akerfeldt was in fine form, dry humour and his self-depreciating approach evident every time he engaged the crowd. A comedy moment followed as guitarist Fredrick Akersson launched into Advent, only to be hauled back as the next track was actually The Moor from the excellent Still Life. As several of the crowd laughingly shouted that Akersson would be “sacked in the morning”, Akerfeldt made light of it. What never fails to astound me is the technical ability of all members of the band. Both Akerfeldt and Akersson are stunning guitarists, able to peel of solo after solo as well as add the layers required to the complex structures of the songs. Martin Mendez’s bass playing is consistently solid and he combines with Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot superbly. Axe’s drumming is so impressive, powerful bass drumming hammering away whilst he effortlessly moves around the rest of the kit. However, what was really noticeable this time around was the influence that keyboard player Joakim Svalberg has on the music. His mellotron and Hammond keyboards flow through the tracks, enriching the sound and adding a fresh dimension to older songs. He also has added a welcome harmony to the backing vocals, an area most recently shared somewhat limitedly by Akersson. Following The Moor it was indeed a welcome rare airing for Advent from 1997’s Morningrise, a powerful and complex track, full of atmosphere and numerous changes in mood and speed. The tempo was then reduced as Opeth slowed the tempo, delivering the beautiful Elysian Woes from Pale Communion before dipping back to Damnation for the delicate and fragile Windowpane. After this though it was heads down for an all-out assault as Opeth demonstrated that when you need heavy, there aren't many bands that will come close. April Ethereal bludgeoned its way towards the sole nod to Heritage with The Devil's Orchard before the band closed with a brutal combination of The Lotus Eater from Watershed and The Grand Conjuration, an evil and twisted piece from Ghost Reveries. An encore followed and despite several shouts for my favourite track Blackwater Park, it was the crushingly heavy Deliverance, all 13 minutes of it, which ended a performance that had lasted well over two hours. A complex journey through much of Opeth’s catalogue with some rare outings adding to the overall excellence of the evening. Opeth just get better and better. 10/10