12 November 2014, The Circus, Helsinki, Finland
As a middle-aged hippie who grew up listening to Pink Floyd and the like before converting to death metal, I was surprised by my own dissatisfaction when Opeth decided to become a fully-fledged prog band. Theoretically, Heritage (2011) should have been right up my alley, but often as I tried, I never managed to get into it. Whatever secret ingredient was missing on it has apparently been found again, though: the new album, Pale Communion, continues in the same general direction but the songwriting is back to normal strength, which in case of Mikael Åkerfeldt means genius.
The popularity of the Swedish quintet among Finns was attested to by a nearly sold-out show. Even the balcony at Circus was open, which I don´t remember having ever seen before.
Due to complications at the door I missed the first twenty minutes of Alcest, but it hasn´t been very long since they last played a headlining show, so the loss was bearable. Funnily, their set ended with “Délivrance” – Opeth later would finish their own with “Deliverance”.
But we are talking about a long and well-constructed set, so let´s start from the beginning. The first two songs were “Eternal Rains Will Come” and the Kingston Wall-esque “Cusp of Eternity”, which together form the first side of the new (double) album and sounded live just as pristine as on vinyl, which is not a granted fact at Circus. Hardly a single nuance of the guitars and keyboards (the latter term being a poor description of Joakim Svalberg´s mighty castle of gear from Hammond and Leslie to Mellotron and Moog Voyager) was lost in the mix, and Åkerfeldt´s clean vocals positively shone.
Yet it´s his growls that many attendants were most eager to hear, and when the band launched into “Bleak”, the audience seemed to shift into a higher gear. “The Moor” and “Advent” continued the trip into the past; in answer to a request for “Black Rose Immortal”, Åkerfeldt replied that he didn´t remember a single riff of that song but offered a couple of bars from its final verse. Well, maybe all of it next time…
With “Elysian Woes”, the band briefly returned to the present before continuing with another old gem, namely the hauntingly beautiful “Windowpane”. Not being a huge fan of “Heritage”, I was not at all dismayed by its almost complete absence from the set; the only featured track from it was “The Devil´s Orchard”, and in my opinion it is indeed the best song on the album. It actually worked perfectly well live, so no complaints here. Following this one, Åkerfeldt – who was strangely silent between the first few songs but later on became his usual talkative self – recalled how Opeth started out 25 years ago as a bunch of skateboarders playing “improvised grindcore”.
In honor of the old days, the band threw in a cover version of Napalm Death´s ” You Suffer” in its full one-second glory. It was followed by the more than five hundred times longer “April Ethereal”, and the remaining songs were of equally epic proportions. “The Lotus Eater” brought back to mind the fact that Watershed (2008) still had some fairly heavy moments to offer, if clearly falling short of Ghost Reveries (2005), which remains my favorite Opeth album and was represented by “The Grand Conjuration”, the powerful closer of the main set.
Before leaving the building and heading for the ferry (which Åkerfeldt confessed to “hate with a passion”), the band came back for an encore, and “Deliverance” rounded the set out to a full two hours. An abundance of both quantity and quality, on par with Opeth´s legendary Tavastia shows back in 2005 – and far better than those truncated festival sets that never seem to do this band proper justice.
Eternal Rains Will Come
Cusp of Eternity
The Devil´s Orchard
(Napalm Death cover)
The Lotus Eater
The Grand Conjuration
Photos: Tina Solda