Barely 3 months since their pre-Christmas appearance under the guise of the
Kerrang! K-fest, Swedish masters Opeth returned to London as part of a
trek around Europe with Norwegian female-fronted doomsters Madder Mortem
in tow. I had rather expected the band to be making the step up to a slightly
larger venue, but since they were performing a string of UK dates, the choice
to stick with the approximately 1000 capacity Mean Fiddler proved to be a wise
choice, as the venue was full, yet not nearly so packed as it had been at the
Madder Mortem appeared on stage around 8PM, rather later than usual for a
support band at this venue and launched into the opening track Necropolis
Lit from their latest album Deadlands. Rather to my surprise, this
female-fronted outfit delivered a fairly slow, ponderous doomy metal, when I
had been expecting Gothic Metal. They were not blessed with the best of sound
from the mixing desk, but initial problems were quickly resolved over the
course of the first couple of numbers.
"Hello London" announced beaming singer Agnete M. Kirkevaag, who
was clearly delighted to be playing here at last. " We’re from Norway
and this is from our second album All Flesh is Grass" she declared
as the band launched into Breaker of Words. The music continued along
much the same lines, with Agnete’s vocals sometimes supplemented by screams
and growls from guitarist Eirik Ulvo Langnes. The band then returned to
Deadlands for cuts such as Jigsaw (The Pattern & The Puzzle),
but unfortunately the lack of variety persuaded me to seek solace in the bar.
By the time Opeth appeared on stage around 9PM, the venue felt very full
indeed and the good mood of the audience reflected that of the band as they
took their places on the stage. On the previous occasion they had been
suffering with some sort of ‘flu, but from the smiles it was clear that they
were all in fine health and ready to take no prisoners. The Leper
Affinity was the right sort of aggressive opening number yet mixed with
calmer melodic passages in typical Opeth style.
"We’re Opeth from Stockholm Sweden" announced singer/guitarist/band
leader Mikael Åkerfeldt, "It’s not so long since we played here, but we
have some surprises for you". The first of these was Advent from
1996’s Morningrise album – a tune that mixes calm, pastoral, almost
Camel like passages with faster-paced, almost power-metal styled phases
and of course Mr Åkerfeldt’s fearsome growls. Then it was back up to date for
the title track from the band’s current album Deliverance with the band
in an altogether heavier mood.
"Enjoying yourselves?” asked Mr Åkerfeldt to a predictably affirmative
roar from the crowd, before leading the band into Godhead’s Lament from
Still Life. This was yet another tune with a furiously heavy beginning,
which developed and mellowed out into passages of pastoral magnificence. However
the biggest cheer of the evening greeted the following song, which as Mikael
admitted "You all know – Sing along if you do!". The Drapery
Falls is perhaps one of the most accessible Opeth numbers and its inclusion
on numerous magazine sampler disks had undoubtedly assisted in boosting the
band’s fanbase here in the UK. Containing the usual aggressive and pastoral
elements, the cleaner vocals certainly make it a song that many prog and
prog-metal fans can enjoy and it is certainly a favourite of mine.
Mikael then informs us that the band will not be playing any tracks from
the upcoming Damnation album, but that by way of substitute, they
will play some older, mellow songs. The first of these is Credence
from the My Arms, Your Hearse album. It was a complete revelation to
me, being by far the most beautiful mellow tune I have yet heard the band
play and certainly a tune that any Camel fan would appreciate –
absolutely stunning! Still reeling from that tune, I was then further impressed
by the beautiful Serenity Painted Death from Still Life, a tune
which fans have been requesting that the band play live.
Then all too soon, it appeared, it was time for the set closer, A Fair
Judgement. Yet another tune containing more than its fare share of
beautiful melodic passages, it was remarkable also for the beauty of the guitar
solos delivered firstly by Mikael and then later on by second guitarist Peter
Lindgren who proved himself to be no sloutch either as a soloist. Once again
the music exceeded my expectations.
Returning to the stage for the obligatory encores, the band then pulled a
further surprise, announcing that they would play Harvest, my other
favourite tune from 2001’s Blackwater Park disk. While not quite matching
the beauty of the recorded version, I have to admit that I was delighted that
it was performed and the band clearly saw it as a ‘special present’ to the
London audience. The finale was inevitable. "We have to finish with out
Stairway to Heaven" declared Åkerfeldt, "This is a Satanic Song, so
I want to see people going crazy". His wish was granted as the crowd
roared into life for Demon of the Fall and the most aggressive passages
saw the biggest moshpit of the evening.
It has to be admitted that the popularity of Opeth is definitely growing.
Their command of the prog spectrum is impressive and their ability to appeal
to fans of many different styles will surely see that popularity grow. Their
musicianship is excellent, (the drumming of Martin Lopez and bassplaying of
Martin Mendez included) and if one can get past the most aggressive side
of their vocals, there is much to enjoy in their music.