OPETH – Evolution XX
Words and pictures by Kyle Moore, the Metal Magnus & Sara Roggensack
Terminal 5 – New York, NY
April 7th, 2010
There’s the entire world of heavy metal in all its genres, evolutions, and extensive devolutions…and then there’s Opeth. The one band in all the world that embodies the essence of extreme metal while simultaneously eclipsing all confines of genre. Upon my first hearing of Opeth, I remarked “how can something so ugly be so beautiful at the same time?” Even outside their native realm of death metal, they have no peers or equals. The weakest album they ever released still stands leagues beyond the efforts of most, and no album of theirs can be called anything short of amazing. I shamelessly admit that Opeth is my favorite band, and that frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt is my personal musical idol, so my excitement was beyond containment when I learned they were performing a special 20th anniversary concert in my backyard. I’ve seen them in concert six times already, but I already knew this would be something beyond an ordinary show. In a statement, Opeth said that they would perform their breakthrough album BLACKWATER PARK in its entirety, followed by a second (yes, a second set!) digging deep into their back catalogue.
As a bonus for some, Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy, allegedly an avid Opeth fan, was in attendance in an upstairs balcony. There are also photos of none-other than saxophonist Kenny G (yes, THAT Kenny G your mother gets silently teased for listening to) on the floor of their next show in L.A. – this goes to show how much Opeth’s appeal has broadened in recent years without the band having made one ounce of musical compromise.
(All italics text by Sara Roggensack): Opeth is one of those unusual bands that sounds different album to album; perhaps this is why they draw such a large fanbase. From the young to the old, new fans to the die-hard fanatics, people crowded Terminal 5 to watch Opeth play one of six Evolution XX concerts worldwide. This wasn’t going to be just any regular show either – the band was going to play BLACKWATER PARK in its entirety, followed by a second set of rarely or never-before-played songs.
With no opening band on the bill, Opeth wordlessly stormed the stage straightaway with the nihilistic opening drone of ‘The Leper Affinity’ before a thoroughly transfixed, sold-out crowd of over 3000 people at Manhattan’s Terminal 5 venue. I noticed this larger crowd was much more “mosh-happy” than I’m accustomed to at Opeth shows, for which fans typically forgo the extensive crowd-surfing and circle-pit gibberish common at most metal concerts. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt is known for his extensive, and surprisingly humorous stage banter between songs, but he stayed uncharacteristically silent. Combined with the raucous crowd, the BLACKWATER PARK set was much less intimate than I’m accustomed to. It more-or-less sounded like listening to the CD. After leaving the photo pit and being unable to reach Sara on the barricade, I had no place to stand that afforded me any view. Given my surprising disinterest in Opeth's set, I took a dinner break in the upstairs lounge to wait for the hopefully-improved 2nd set.
After a ten-minute intermission, the band came back out and played ‘Forest of October’ from the ORCHID album. This was an incredible song to hear, something they haven’t played live in years and years if ever. The contrast between the lighter sections with the heavy, raw guitar riffs was hypnotizing, and the breaks in the music were tight, clean, and powerful. The song was entirely mesmerizing.
Once the first set ended, the floor cleared out just enough for me to find acceptable standing room. The second set was more intense, and much more intimate than the first, with Mikael breaking his previous silence by giving lengthy explanations of Opeth’s history between songs.
“It’s been twenty years – I still have my hair, my cock.” After a little history of how the band formed, the old lineup (Mikael, Peter Lindgren, Johan DeFarfalla, and Anders Nordin) recorded MORNINGRISE. The band then played ‘Advent’, the first song on MORNINGRISE. (I was secretly hoping they would play ‘Black Rose Immortal.’) Advent was another song that I had never heard live, and was very excited as MORNINGRISE is very dear to my heart – I was not disappointed. There was no better place I could’ve been standing for this song; I had a spot right in front of Martin Mendez where I could watch his mastery of the bass.
I hold MORNINGRISE on a pedestal of sacredness on par with, if not above classics like MASTER OF PUPPETS and POWERSLAVE, so having a rare opportunity to hear the exquisite dual-guitar melodies on ‘Advent’ was very special to a long-time fan like me. I’ve also had the privilege of hearing ‘To Bid You Farewell’ done live on an all-mellow tour back in 2003, but I’m hoping one day I can claim to have heard each of MORNINGRISE’s five lengthy tracks performed live.
Time for another lesson from Mike the history teacher. Anders left the band to move to Brazil and pursue a career in bicycling. “When he told me, I said, ‘Good luck,’” said Mikael. He and Peter also fired Johan, who is now working for a Christian political party. This was met by jeers from the crowd, and Mikael responded, “Mock the cross! [referring to the Bloodbath song ‘Mock the Cross.’] I got a lot of emails for that lyric I wrote saying ‘You really shouldn’t write things like that!’” Mikael said he and Peter put out a newspaper ad looking for a new drummer and bass player saying they were going to be the biggest band ever, leading to Martin Lopez and Martin Mendez joining up.
With Mikael’s witty banter back in full force, Opeth really hit their stride ‘The Moor’ from STILL LIFE. I’ve always felt that STILL LIFE is an under-appreciated album that could do really well with a re-mix, or even a full re-recording. The seemingly-endless droning at the beginning of the song was cut out, which while necessary for brevity’s sake, left out the creepy vibe I always get when listening to the CD. Nonetheless, this is a personal favorite song of mine and it was a delight to hear it live.
They skipped over BLACKWATER PARK since we had just heard the entire thing, and went on to ‘Wreath’ from the DELIVERANCE record. ‘Wreath’ captures the essence of the entire record; it is a yearning, passionate, rough, and disturbing song, brought to life by Martin Axenrot’s drums and Mikael’s & Fredrik’s guitars. This was one of the most captivating and entertaining songs of the night.
Axenrot made a simple, but devastating change to the final repetition of the main riff of ‘Wreath’ – adding a basic blastbeat deeply intensified an already brutal song
In complete contrast to ‘Wreath’ was ‘Hope Leaves’, from the quieter DAMNATION record. It’s great to have someone like Per Wiberg and Fredrik Åkesson in the band to help out on backing vocals in songs like Hope Leaves; it really brings another level of musicianship to their live performance. The darkness and despair of this song was brought out with the simple melody and haunting vocals; a solo from Fredrik at the end of the song only emphasized the dark nature of the piece.
Frederik’s solo is notable because it was his own improvisation, not at all related to the version on the recording. This was the first chance we had all night to revel in this man’s exceptional guitar talents, finally offering us a showcase of the new level of virtuosity and depth that Opeth has generally not been known for. Frederik also had a few opportunities to showcase his lovely backing vocals, which now enables Opeth to do three-part harmonies they weren’t able to do with Peter on guitar.
Next up was ‘Reverie/Harlequin Forest’, which I regard as the best track from the otherwise-mediocre GHOST REVERIES. Mikael once stated that GHOST REVERIES was intended to answer critics that claimed that MORNINGRISE was Opeth’s insurmountable magnum opus; ironically in attempting to silence their critics, they created a surprisingly unengaging, rambling album.
Before the last song, Mikael introduced the newest members of the band, Martin Axenrot and Fredrik Åkesson, who joined Opeth after the departure of Martin Lopez and Peter Lindgren. The last song of the night was ‘The Lotus Eater’ from the remarkable WATERSHED. This is a very twisted song, with harmonized vocals on top of blast beats, and harsh growls layered with eerie guitar riffs. Hearing the song live is a much more engaging and emotional experience than hearing it from a stereo system; ‘The Lotus Eater’ is just another example of an Opeth song that sounds even better in person.
The last song of a concert is always a tricky business; the fans expect the “best” or most famous song from a band’s catalogue, just when the band is probably running out of steam from the rest of their set. Traditionally, Opeth has played the savagely heavy track ‘Demon of the Fall’ from MY ARMS, YOUR HEARSE, which is always met by renewed fury from both the band and the crowd. But tonight, it was ‘The Lotus Eater’, which is the most bizarre, technical track Opeth has ever written. It also happens to be an amazing song even by Opeth’s lofty standards, and they gave their absolute best performance of the night to this baby. The power and energy they radiated was quite remarkable for a band typically noted for their mellow stage presence. This was without question their best effort of the evening, and it left me with that special, happy glow I rarely get from concerts anymore. Given how uninvolved I felt with the BLACKWATER PARK set, being totally sucked in for the 2nd set made me leave a very happy man.
The band gathered at the front of the stage to take their bows and say goodnight to the crowd. Overall, this was one of the top performances I’ve seen from the band. The second set of the concert far surpassed the Blackwater Park set; the energy was higher, and I feel like the band fed off that energy more. I can only hope that in twenty years from now I’ll be attending another Opeth concert as memorable as this Evolution XX concert.
The Leper Affinity
The Drapery Falls
Dirge for November
The Funeral Portrait
Patterns in the Ivy
Forest of October
The Lotus Eater