Sunday, 13 November 2011

Opeth - Manchester Academy, 11th November 2011

Opeth are among the most reliable bands in heavy metal. Critically acclaimed the world over for consistently releasing some of the most intelligent and forward thinking metal the genre’s ever seen and sustaining an over 20 year career with all the humble candor of music’s most seasoned veterans, you can always rely on Opeth to deliver the goods, whether it’s through redefining your perception of progressive music every time they deliver another batch of inimitable genius or simply through being one of the few bands in metal who don’t take themselves very seriously at all (it defies belief, I know).

However, if you pay attention to the chin-stroking muso side of things then you’ll know Opeth divided opinion fairly strongly with their latest offering, Heritage. Abandoning metal completely for a swirling, hour long tribute to the rich, analogue tapestry of 70’s prog, it’s an absolute tour de force of completely bonkers music. This of course is the Heritage tour, and as such, a large percentage of tonight’s setlist is dedicated to the albums schizophrenic melancholy. The pints are in, the speck is chosen, and the merch is plentiful and surprisingly cheap. All systems go.

After Pain Of Salvation [6] fail to incite any emotion from an impatient audience whatsoever despite boasting a fantastic singer in Daniel Gildenlรถw and pulling off absolutely mesmerizing three-part vocal harmonies with not a shred of effort in sight, Opeth [7] practically stroll on stage following the obligatory “eerie intro tape” and launch straight into ‘The Devil’s Orchard’, the immediacy of which is at once both rousing and completely fucking stunning. The band are on fine form and, don’t tell anyone but, they’ve only gone and found themselves a bloody hook line in “God is dead” haven’t they? Following this is the gorgeous ‘I Feel The Dark’, which absolutely typifies the sound and ideology behind Heritage down to the ground, beginning with that simply divine acoustic guitar refrain and promptly tumbling into Opeth’s evil, signature brand of prog rock – and THAT riff sounds effing huge in the live setting. ‘Face Of Melinda’ sounds absolutely wonderful too – but it’s in ‘Porcelain Heart’ that there’s a distinct change in the room. About 3 minutes in, the band lets up and Martin Axenrot launches into a ridiculously unstructured drum solo that goes on for literally about five minutes. This is the exact point in which a set that has so much potential to be genuinely spellbinding transforms into an absolute snoozefest that occasionally shows signs of picking up, particularly in the downright groove marathon that is ‘Nepenthe’, but never sticks around for long.

Usually when a band pulls out the stools and the acoustic guitars during a show, it’s at the point where you’ve been bombarded with so many hits or crowd pleasers and you’ve screamed your throat out so much that even you need a rest. Opeth don’t seem to adhere to this school of thinking, and instead bring them out when your inner mosher is practically pleading: “Please, just play some fucking metal”. Nonetheless, Opeth play some deep cuts from seldom visited albums during this portion, so it’s not all bad, and ‘Closure’ from the beautiful Damnation album is legitimately sublime. Finally, the pace starts to pick up a little with ‘Slither’, one of Heritage’s highlights and a poignant tribute to the late Ronnie James Dio, but again this hardly lasts, and by the time ‘Hex Omega’ comes around, you’re sincerely bored, and you don’t even feel bad about it anymore. ‘Folklore’ rounds off an evening of mixed emotions and eventual bitter disappointment, with only the true die-hards lashing praise upon the band as the venue exits open.

Opeth themselves know better than anyone how confusing Heritage is even to those who enjoy the album, but it seems like they’ve made no real effort into integrating the new style naturally into the setlist and weaving it into all the qualities that made people fall in love with the band in the first place. Instead, tonight feels like song choices have literally been picked out of a hat and flung together with no real consideration for order, balance, peaks or themes. It’s not that the band are bad tonight – truth be told, they’re magnificent; the sound is near spot on (which is more than can usually be said for Manchester Academy 1), the musicianship is of the highest quality and Mikael’s voice is shockingly good. It’s just that it feels more like an exhibition than a gig. You feel, on more than one occasion, like you’re being forced to endure the whole spectacle out of sheer politeness, of all things. Having said that, Opeth have never been the kind of band you turn up and beat the ever loving shit out of each other to. But when you’ve got a pint in your hand and you’re mixing with the more metal side of the underbelly of the Northwest, sometimes all you want to do is bang your head a bit. It’s just by the time an opportunity for such an activity comes around, you’re already far too underwhelmed to even bother, which must be how women feel when I roll off them and assure them I’ll be “better next time”.

Sort it out, boys. Do your prog thing, but just remember – half the reason most of your fans love you is because you do metal better than 99% of bands on the planet. Don’t sack the genre that made you off completely.

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