This was a real bucket list moment for me. Plagued with terrible timing, I’ve missed Opeth the last few times they were within 200 miles of Lexington. I made up for it in spades last night when I not only got to see Opeth perform from ten feet away, but I also had the good fortune of meeting the band before the show. Instructed to be at the venue at 6:15 for the meet and greet, I talked metal and Opeth with some good folks that were waiting in line with me. Opeth have a rapid fanbase if nothing else. People follow these Swedish powerhouses around with the same dedication as Phish or Grateful Dead fans. Alas, there was no fresh hot veggie burritos, free hugs, or Opium dealers there, but the bubbling enthusiasm was palpable. Pondering what to say to a band I count as personal heroes to me and the genre, the doors opened despite my lack of mental preparation – time to most likely embarrass myself.
The 15+ people with VIP tickets were given a generous Opeth swag bag, filled with a VIP t-shirt, a Heritage Tour photo book, one general admission ticket, a 180 gram double album of Heritage (clear vinyl!), and fancy VIP laminate – this is exciting already. We milled around the merch table and empty floor until the band finally appeared from backstage and greeted us with smiles and handshakes. I’m not exactly a casual Opeth fan, what I lacked in concert time, I more than made up for in legit love. I adore Mikael Akerfldt’s guitar playing and tone so much that I got myself his signature PRS guitar last month. (Check this beautiful instrument out right here.) Mikael shook my hand firmly and greeted me with a warm “hello” in his noticeable Swedish accent. He seemed more than happy to casually discuss the state of music today, international travel, pre-show jitters, how pretty he found the city, and the general insanity afforded to him through Opeth. The entire band was very vocal and genuine and I count it as one of most exciting musical experiences I’ve had.
Opeth took the stage with The Devil’s Orchard – a crushing riff-heavy track from the band’s most recent release, their tenth album, Heritage. Buster’s sang along, chanting the song’s powerful lyrics and declaring the crowd’s energy and presence from the opening notes. Mikael mentioned during the set that Heritage was sort of “controversial”. It does seem to be rather polarizing among the fans since the record contains no signature Opeth growls. In its place are clean and soulful vocals, possibly Akerfeldt’s best and most passionate thus far.
The Devil’s Orchard
Ghost of Perdition
Demon of the Fall*
Jumping backwards in time, Ghost of Perdition, brought a collective cheer as it tapped into Opeth’s darker and heavier side. The song shifted through its constantly changing segments, taking us on a thrill ride composed of metal at its very best. Anyone worried the band wouldn’t be unleashing some of their most brutal death metal, quickly breathed a sigh of relief. White Cluster, an oldie from Still Life, chugged along with its intense structure, drifting in and out of the drum and bass-rich sections, accented with funky, yet dissonant guitars. Mikael and Fredrik play in such synchronicity with each other, each taking off with skilled solos, that might look effortless to the casual observer.
Hope Leaves and Atonement were up next. Last night’s set was a perfect slice of Opeth’s storied career. The trippy lyrics and back beat bongo sections are only enhanced by the almost sitar like guitars and Akerfeldt’s warm vocals; maybe some of his best. The guy keeps getting better in his clean presentation. I can see why he prefers that sound as you really do hit a limit with growls, while the actual singing is a constant work in progress, with Akerfeldt openly mentioning he’s always learning.
The Watershed track, Hessian Peel, brought an eruption of cheers from the overstimulated Kentucky crowd. It starts off beautifully, showcasing the clean vocals before Mikael breaks it off around the six-minute mark. There was no lack of lengthy songs – easily hitting the ten minute mark. Häxprocess, a Heritage track featuring a myriad of acoustic passages and atmospheric keyboards, before the band bursts into a galloping strut that allows drummer, Martin “Axe” Axenrot, to shine. This is one of my favorite songs from Heritage, one that feels very 70’s in nature. The reverb-heavy solo section feels almost a little Moody Blues or Black Sabbath Solitude inspired. It’s hilarious and moronic that more people don’t like Heritage. I love to see my favorite bands age and evolve – there is no music without it. Opeth isn’t a band that should hold back or do anything less than write and play from the heart. If every song was Demon of the Fall, I would get bored as shit after ten albums of that style. Opeth have it – they need to flaunt it and do what moves them. Heritage is a A+ example of their raw talent and I’m still discovering all the subtle nuances it offers.
Reverie/Harlequin Forest was the last song before the encore. A twelve-minute juggernaut of progressive metal benchmarks. Regardless of the several changes within this crowd favorite, the song never once feels forced or less than organic. Mikael and Fredrik were on fire. If they fudged anything, my ears missed it. They’re both rarities in the metal world as they exhibit phenomenal technical merit, but play with equally matched emotion. Fredrik’s lighting fast runs combined with Akerfeldt’s recognize-it-a-million-miles-away phrasing make for the most pleasant duo in metal. You may not share my passion for this band or its members, but this is my review and these guy fucking own.
The last song of the night was the title track from Blackwater Park, a twelve-minute opus that many fans consider to be a key career point for Opeth. I have no idea how Akerfeldt comes up with these riffs, how he strings them together. All I know is this band is hypnotic to me. The songs, the tone, the sum of their parts, the overall vibe and tone are magical and so very unique. Opeth are still on tour, check out their dates and GO SEE THEM if they come anywhere near you. This should be required attendance for the metal community. One show per tour or you lose your metal card. Check out the remaining date here.
Take a look at all the photos before you split and feel free to comment. Many thanks to everyone at Buster’s for booking this show as well as my usual VIP treatment. Clark, Chad, and Megan – y’all rock all the time – every time. Free Jagerbombs go a long way. 😉
All photos are property of Nate Roboto Photography©