Over the past few years progressive rock has changed significantly, with most of the smaller bands opting to take a heavier approach with each album however, Swedish Prog outfit Opeth have taken the opposite approach and have gotten softer and in some ways sound closer to the classic prog rock bands like Yes and Jethro Tull, joining them was Norwegian Proggers, Enslaved.
With only two bands on the bill including the headliner, there was a lot of pressure on Enslaved but they managed to deliver. Aptly describing themselves as “Opeth’s weird cousin”, the band gave a slower and more atmospheric approach to progressive black metal resulting in long drawn out passages that seemed to go on for a lot longer than they actually did but in the best way possible, their set had this ethereal ambience to it and still managing to be incredibly heavy.
It can be difficult for prog bands to fit into a support slot and still give the audience a sense of what their music is like especially when their sound is so hard to categorise but Enslaved pulled it off with their first song ‘Storm Son’, a 10 minute epic from their latest album, in one song they conveyed their unique brand of icy shoegaze tinged black metal.
Opeth came on stage on to the extended keyboard introduction of ‘Sorceress’ before the rest of the band came on stage, none were welcomed warmer than Mikael Akerfeldt who has since established himself as one of the premier songwriters and performers in modern Prog and for good reason. His stage presence and fan interaction is phenomenal as well as his fantastic guitar skills and voice which are eclectic enough to complement almost any style of music the band could ever think to play.
Over the years Opeth have managed to balance their setlists better, during the ‘Heritage’ tour they played none of their death metal tracks and instead focused on softer prog anthems which alienated some of their audience but luckily they have brought back those death metal elements that made them famous. The additions of songs like ‘Ghost of Perdition’ felt like a healthy compromise between the differing factions of Opeth fans while still giving the audience an experience that didn’t feel cheapened by fan pressure.
Opeth’s music can take some getting used to, with most songs on this setlist being over 10 minutes long, the use of strange and abrupt time signature changes and tonal shifts. With how unpredictable some of the songs can be it’s understandable that some new listeners may be overwhelmed but at no point does it ever become boring, giant anthems like ‘Hessian Peel’ that clocks in at 12 minutes breezes by in no time due to it’s balance of gorgeous clean segments and intense death metal.
It takes bravery for a band to play tracks from their most polarising album and Opeth is a band confident enough to do so. ‘Haxprocess’ from the ‘Heritage’ album was probably a strange choice considering there are more well-known songs from that album. But given the bleak and downbeat tone the song manages to convey it makes a perfect break and shows off some of the most beautiful guitar work the band has to offer. The ending guitar solo complimented by soft piano keys are inspiring and just goes to demonstrate that not every guitar solo needs to have a million notes per second to be engaging.
Mikael Akerfeldt said of the last few songs of the setlist, “One we hope you’ll like and the other two, we know you’re really gonna like”, and he couldn’t possibly be more right. Starting with a song from the latest album was ‘Era’, a fairly short number that worked as a high energy metal song. But the real highlights were ‘The Drapery Falls’ from ‘Blackwater Park’ and the title track from ‘Deliverance’. It feels cheap to describe these songs as epics it really is difficult to describe how grandiose and spectacular these songs are to see and hear live and regardless of your opinion on the band or Prog, it feels like a rite of passage to see them.
Only a band as unique as Opeth could pull off changing their sound so drastically over the years and their live set exists as proof that after the band retires we will never have another band like them.