In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall
How do you celebrate your 20th birthday? If you’re Opeth you could maybe book London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, throw a blowout party by playing for three straight hours and then film it using 11 cameras. “We’re bringing death metal into the halls of fine culture,” says frontman Mikael Akerfeldt, encapsulating perfectly how far Opeth and metal have come in the last two decades.
The two-DVD set breaks their massive three-hour setlist into two halves, the first featuring Blackwater Park played in its entirety and the second, the “evolution” segment, showcasing one song from every one of their studio albums in chronological order. The first half – fans will argue that it should have been their launch vehicle Orchid, or the beautifully melancholy Still Life but it was only ever going to be Blackwater Park, the album with which the band truly arrived – is a interesting wander through the band’s most complete effort. The concert staples from this album – ‘The Drapery Falls,’ ‘The Leper Affinity’ and ‘Blackwater Park’ – are here, of course, with the kind of spit and polish sheen that songs get from being played so often, so often that it seems underwhelming at times. It’s the lesser played numbers, like the acoustic ‘Harvest’ and the monstrous ‘Dirge For November’ that make for the more interesting listen while the ones never heard, like the instrumental ‘Patterns in the Ivy’ you’ll find are never played for a reason – it’s flat-out boring. That Opeth are a geek’s band is obvious from the 23-minute epics and even in the crowd shots; the front row in entirely filled with bespectacled, intense looking young men that could have filed out from a science lab. So it can’t have been much bother to the audience that the entire first set gets played with absolutely no conversation and no stage act but on DVD it does occasionally become a drag – this could well have been an audio CD and you wouldn’t have missed a thing.
The second segment sees the band dip into their back catalogue to pull out one song from each album to purportedly showcase their evolution. But over the prodigiously long prog-metal epics ‘Forest of October’ (Orchid), ‘Advent’(Morningrise), ‘April Ethereal’ (My Arms, Your Hearse) and ‘The Moor’ (Still Life) you begin to realise that Opeth’s sound hasn’t evolved as much as expanded to fill every crack and detail of the soundscape they have created and mastered; Opeth truly exist in a genre of one. These songs surprisingly fare better than the first half, tempered by Akerfeldt’s increasingly ribald commentary between songs.
It’s almost impossible to keep a three-hour concert entirely free of technical issues and here too they crop up from time to time, which thankfully the DVD retains to its benefit. The cock-ups come to a head on last song ‘The Lotus Eater’ from Watershed, culminating in the infamous guitar-rig fail where Fredrik Akesson’s guitar cuts out for a full five minutes. The band continues, nevertheless, to finish to a standing ovation from the packed house.
While the setlist, coupled with the lengthy songs, is ridiculously demanding the band rarely come up short. Akerfeldt’s honeyed guitaring is on the money, Akesson is occasionally choppy but steadfast and Martin Mendez’s bass underpins the entire performance perfectly. Drummer Martin Axenrot occasionally stutters over his drum parts though never stumbling. But it’s poor Per Wiberg who gets the short shrift, his keyboard almost never heard in the first half and consistently overwhelmed in the second. The DVD missed the fluidity that Lamentations and The Roundhouse Tapes possessed in good measure but Opeth Live in Concert is a good watch, not essential in the Opeth catalogue but a happy celebration of years of great music.