Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 13/3
author AP date 07/11/16 venue DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, DEN
Without a doubt one of the autumn’s most anticipated shows for Danish metalheads was Opeth’s sitting at the 1,800-capacity main auditorium of DR Koncerthuset. Purpose built to capture and dissipate every sound produced by the artist(s) that play there, it is hard to imagine a better venue in which to experience the Swedish icons and their jazzy progressive metal — so hardly to anyone’s surprise, the concert has been flagged as sold out months in advance. And given that Opeth ranks among this scribe’s absolute favourites, there was of course never a question as to my own attendance, in spite of my skepticism toward seated concerts in the metal genre.
Sahg is widely referred to as a ‘supergroup’, yet arguably that term lost all meaning when Skuggsjá/Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and since Abbath’s Tom Cato Visnes exited in 2006 and 2011 respectively, leaving the outfit a ragtag collection of musicians who — quite right — play in other bands as well, but whom you would be at pains to recognise given the calibre of those bands. Be that as it may, Sahg is no stranger to featuring on the bills of various progressive and extreme metal bands of nordic heritage, and some readers might even recall the band opening for Dimmu Borgir and Enslaved in Copenhagen six years ago. If not, don’t sweat it — the show was rather mediocre, owing in equal parts to lacking showmanship and songs that, though momentarily engaging, suffered from a serious lack of edge.
Unfortunately, both of those deficiencies still plague Sahg’s performance, even if their motionless performance is more excusable in such a formal setting as this. Opening track “Black Unicorn” is just as much a dud live as it is on record (“Memento Mori”, which was released just over a month ago), trudging about for a good six-and-a-half minutes without a semblance of purpose before the double-pedal pummel of “Devilspeed” comes to its rescue. The real problem is that Sahg’s music very rarely crosses the threshold between b-rate prog — well played, but seldom with lasting value — and the caste to which the evening’s headliner belongs. There is promise in the Gojira-ish syncopation of “Sanctimony”, but in truth the audience must wait until the second last piece, “Blood of Oceans”, before the band provides any justification for its inclusion on the bill.
Admittedly, the fact that Sahg presents no threat to Opeth in terms of musical ability and charisma, but nonetheless performs a selection of compatible tunes with a professional assuredness, makes them the ideal warmer-up. The crowd applauds their endeavours politely, but the response is never feverish. As for myself, I soak in the few effective singles (“Sanctimony” and “Blood of Oceans”) whilst noting that Sahg will likely never be able to shed the role of the perennial support act — not unless they up the game in terms of ambition and, crucially, hooks.
The Swedish progressive maestros enter in the same order as the instruments fall in at the onset of “Sorceress”, the title track to their newest creation, with a nonchalance betraying a sort of timeless elegance that has become Opeth’s custom. The aura keeps with DR Koncerthuset’s understated yet futuristic decor, which thankfully has not been bastardised by excessive production gimmicks for the occasion. No, the stage setup is basic, if considered, with four pillars of squared LED screens formed like the windows of a church and a variety of upward facing lights the only semblance of a ‘backdrop’, and as such, one understands the evening is to focus on the music alone. Unlike Sahg, Opeth can afford to let the songs do the talking, yet in the lack of visible energy there is still a confidence, a charisma, and a connection with the audience that makes the quintet’s performance so arresting.
With the exception of frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s singing and growling (he admits his throat is a bit hoarse tonight, alas), it is difficult to imagine a metal band mustering up a better sound mix than what this philharmonic hall enables — it carves deeper into the intricately woven fabric of tracks such as “Ghost of Perdition” than on any previous occasion that I have had the pleasure to watch Opeth live, and opens an entire new window into the compositional genius underlying most of their repertoire. The final third of the concert in particular is stunning, “Cusp of Eternity” blasting through with such force it has the audience glued into its seats in acceptance, and the monolithic “Drapery Falls” enchanting its way into music history as perhaps the best live rendition of a metal song, ever. The majesty of this prog-metal masterpiece is assigned a new meaning by the venue’s gracious ambience; no wonder its conclusion is marked with a long, standing ovation.
Meaning no disrespect to “Heir Apparent” or “The Grand Conjuration”, it is in the lavishness of “The Drapery Falls” that the concert reaches its pinnacle, accentuated by the temperate nature of the setlist’s middle. Emphasising the quiet, subtle and heavily acoustic aspects of Opeth’s discography, this central passage in fact beckons the only justifiable criticism one could have: the sequence stringing “Face of Melinda”, “In My Time of Need” and “Will o the Wisp” together takes the wind out of proceedings hitherto, as brilliant as each of those songs is individually. It feels too ethereal in the wake of “The Wilde Flowers”, and as such one should not blame the patrons who decide to utilise the lull by visiting the bathroom or bar. Shifting perception though — for connoisseurs of the less imposing facets of Opeth, the opportunity to hear such seldom chosen beauties must be an experience in its own right, and while the passages reduces the show’s intensity for a time, in retrospect I am not sure I would have liked to substitute any of it for something more metallic. A rendition of the towering “Blackwater Park”, perhaps?
Progressive music should contain those kinds of dynamics and movements, and as such, objectively speaking, it is hard to view Opeth’s exploits tonight as anything short of a masterclass. The moody, yet spectacular lighting, the total immersion of Åkerfeldt and his colleagues (guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, bassist Martín Méndez, drummer Martin Axenrot and keyboardist/organist Joakim Svalberg) in the music, and the tangible connection that forms between the musicians and their audience despite Opeth’s notorious self-involvement and dark, scathing humour, manifest as an unforgettable and — certainly for me — unparalleled concert experience. And so as I stand up in awe to clap and summon the band on stage once more for a repeat of closing piece “The Grand Conjuration”’s magnificence, an otherworldly sensation suddenly washes over me in symbiosis with the familiar, yet always startling “Deliverance”. How poetic.
- 01. Sorceress
- 02. Ghost of Perdition
- 03. Demon of the Fall
- 04. The Wilde Flowers
- 05. Face of Melinda
- 06. In My Time of Need
- 07. Will o the Wisp
- 08. Cusp of Eternity
- 09. The Drapery Falls
- 10. Heir Apparent
- 11. The Grand Conjuration
— Encore —
- 12. Deliverance