Opeth O2 Academy, Bristol
I’ve written several reviews of the Swedish masters Opeth for this blog. Each one is crammed full of superlatives about the musicianship, the interplay, the complexity and the dry wit of one Mikael Akerfeldt. If you don’t know how I feel about this band by now, then you must be a very new reader (welcome by the way!). With the bonus of Norwegian powerhouses Enslaved on the undercard this was a tasty bill not to be missed.
With limited space at the front of the stage for the Norwegians to move around in, Enslaved’s (8) show was static but that mattered not a jot as the band blasted through five lengthy tracks from their last three albums. Unsurprisingly, given the high quality of their recent brilliant album E, Enslaved opened with Storm Son. The interchange between light and heavy, melody and death metal and clean and gruff vocals really worked on the album and transferred very comfortably to the live arena.
Original member Grutle Kjellson’s complex bass work and growling death metal vocals were accompanied by the rhythm guitar of other remaining founder member Ivar Bjornson, a man mountain whose dexterity in his playing was impressive given his massive frame. Lead guitarist (and Audrey Horne member) Arve “Ice Dale” Isdal, clad only in leather trousers and shoes ripped out solo after solo, and although it was slightly lost in a muddy mix this was quality. Behind the drums Cato Bekkevold held the ship steady, his double bass drumming and complex fills looking easy.
Full marks to new man Håkon Vinje, whose smooth keyboards and clean vocals balanced the death growls perfectly. The epic Roots Of The Mountain from 2012’s RIITIIR followed, all ten minutes of it before the very apt One Thousand Years Of Rain from 2015’s In Times continued the progressive theme. Although Enslaved has moved away from their death metal sound in recent years, the band are still damn heavy and the final two songs, The River Mouth and Sacred Horse (both from E) were perfect examples of how impressive this band has become.
The instantly recognisable Through Pain To Heaven heralded the arrival of three fifths of Opeth (9) to the stage as Martin “Axe” Axenrot, Martin Mendez and Joakim Svalberg quickly got into the jazz intro of Sorceress, the title track of last year’s excellent release. Joined by guitarist Frederik Akersson and front man Akerfledt, the track progressed into the heavier freestyle with the audience captivated. What followed was Opeth in their comfort zone, and dare I say it almost cruising such is their sheer capacity for making the complex look easy. Akerfeldt’s between song banter was as superb as always, despite being lost for words when one punter shouted, “it’s a little flat” when Akerfeldt had asked how it sounded.
The band follow a reasonably standard set list throughout their tours and to be fair, it’s complicated enough to play so no complaints here. Highlights of the evening? Well, the hysterical acoustic cover of Napalm Death’s You Suffer, the rare outing for Häxprocess from Heritage was interesting, the intricate Moon Above, Sun Below from Pale Communion magical and the return of Hessian Peel from Watershed welcome. An impressive light show including retina scorching spots and a big screen with projections on it enhanced the show but ultimately it was the music that delivered.
No ego fuelled solos, just a confident two hour set that once again demonstrated why Opeth are one of the most interesting and relevant bands in the hard rock and metal scene today. As they departed for their final show and a period of relaxation, I was left already excited for their next release and the magical experiences that will bring.