The quality of touring packages coming through Dublin and Belfast over the last few years is quite staggering given the obvious hurdles in the way of island hopping.
Tonight is no different as we are treated to the quality of Opeth touring ‘Sorceress’ and Enslaved as support with their latest effort ‘E’ hot off the press.
A lot of people, myself included, have not been as impressed with Opeth’s output post ‘Heritage’ given its shift to a more 70’s prog orientated flavour than what we were used to from Mikael Akerfeldt and co.
So the thought of having a setlist that may be post-‘Heritage’-heavy might have made some a bit apprehensive.
Tickets have sold out months ago though, so maybe I’m wrong.
This pairing ten or fifteen years ago may have left a few scratching their heads, but given both bands compasses have been swinging in the direction of genre-bending unchartered waters, they complement each other nicely.
I’m at a bit of a disadvantage as I’ve not familiarised myself with ‘E’ yet (Ok, so it gets better with time – ed). So whatever I hear tonight will be a first impression.
A day or two before, I found out that Enslaved are only getting a 30 minute slot for reasons unknown. So it will be a short outing for Norway’s finest.
Kicking things off with ‘Storm Son’ off the new album they sound tight and confident in delivery.
I was interested to see how Hakon Vinje would handle the rich, clean vocal duties left vacant by Herbrand Larsen’s shock departure nearly a year ago. Thankfully he sounds on point and well honed in the mix.
My first impression… is a good one.
‘Storm Son’ seems to be a very natural progression on from 2015’s ‘In times’ and seems to carry on in the same vein – a rich tapestry of colouring and intertwining melodies seamlessly layered over that unmistakable Enslaved grit.
The sound tonight is excellent with everything coming through well balanced and sharp.
Grutle and Ivar are in good spirits with plenty of banter too, Ivar at one point joking that the stage isn’t really cramped, they are just huge! making reference to the tightly packed space they control around Cato’s huge drum kit.
Following on with another track off ‘E’, ‘The Rivers Mouth’ pounds through the PA with vicious intent. Grutle’s vocal’s ripping through the mix as if to reach out and grab you by the throat, demanding your attention.
The packed Academy by now in the palm of his hand and thoroughly enjoying it. What’s great to see is the comfort that they seem to maintain blasting through these tracks that are quite complex and shape-shifting.
Some passage’s are quite rush-esque actually. At one point I even thought to myself, if Rush were a black metal band, this is what they would sound like!
Finishing up a mere half an hour later just when they seemed to be firing on all cylinders, the impressive ‘Sacred Horse’ close’s things. It really reminded me of ‘the Crossing’ from ‘Below The Lights’.
The contrast between Grutle’s harsh rasp and Hakon’s soaring and sometimes haunting vocal is impressive to say the least. It was a real shame Enslaved only got a half hour, it nearly seemed an insult given the spectacle we just witnessed. Nonetheless, they were met with a resounding and enthusiastic response, so their work here is done.
Opeth rarely disappoint live.
The main apprehension tonight though, as stated above, is the sea change in Opeth’s output over the last few years – and whether or not it will pollute the set list.
They open proceedings predictably with ‘sorceress’, the title track from last year’s well received album. “I’m a sinner… You’re a sorceress… You’re a charlatan” littered with infectious lyrical hooks, ‘Sorceress’ is made for opening.
That rhythm that just demands you surrender to it is relentless. By the second verse there’s not a toe that’s not tapping in the house. Mikael’s vocals are as impressive as ever. And is it just me or are they getting better?
Again, just like Enslaved, the sound is crystal, the house mix is perfect.
Next up, they fire straight into a crushing rendition of ‘Ghost of Perdition’ as if to stamp out any doubt that they have gone soft and lost the interest in the Opeth of old we all came to know and love.
‘Ghost..’ also portrays Opeth’s mesmerising quality to be able to shift from guttural savagery to soaring beautiful melodic passages at the drop of a hat and not break a sweat. It never gets old, and thankfully we are witness to many more of these moments throughout the night.
Next up we are treated to something from ‘My arms your hearse’ to the resounding approval of the crowd. ‘Demon of the fall’ is a welcome surprise and takes the whole thing up a notch.
It’s a pleasure to watch them deliver it with such faultless precision. So far so good.
As usual Mikael, quite the comedian, is full of his dry sarcastic wit and there is plenty of between-song-chatter.
Onto another track from Sorceress with ‘The Wilde Flowers’ and it all seems to blend perfectly into the balance of the set.
I’m starting to think that a lot of Opeth’s later material really comes into its own when played live.
‘Windowpane’ follows on with ‘Haxprocess’ showcasing the more delicate intimate material from Damnation and Heritage respectfully. It was great to be able to listen through without disruption. You could hear a pin drop in parts as passages swelled and melted into one another – quite a beautiful thing to behold.
What we are witnessing at this stage is an absolute master class in musicianmanship and it is a pleasure to see.
Mikael remarked on the silence saying that people must be either bored to death or showing great appreciation; of course the latter was the case. At this stage Opeth are in full command of the audience, they are seasoned professionals and it shows.
Back to Pale communion as ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ slithers and winds its way through its organ driven path. Again plenty of dynamic’s throughout shifting from beautiful acoustic passages with haunting leads to jaunty jazz infused breaks.
Fredrik Akesson really shines through here with some blistering lead work, a phenomenal guitarist. ‘Hessian Peel’ keeps up the theme of the night, displaying a wide range of tones and the vast ability that this lot harness.
Then, the curtain slowly starts to come down on the night, but not before we get treated to Blackwater-fucking-Park! The surprise of the night for myself and most.
Flawlessly executed and really drives home how bloody good Opeth are live, It doesn’t get much better than this. Thankfully we get an encore and most can guess that ‘Deliverance’ still has to be unleashed. “Look. Me. In. The. Eye!…” the delivery is direct and uncompromising.
The entire crowd myself included are absolutely entranced by it, and then of course, THAT outro. They end the night on a high, but then again, thinking back through the entire set, there were no lows. It’s rare, but it does happen and tonight, it happened.
– Pat O’Hagan ::: 27/11/17
– Pics with huge thanks to Edwin Kingston