SWEDISH prog-metal maestros Opeth truly did deliver more than just sorcery and damnation when they took the stage at Sydney’s Opera House on Tuesday night with a full range of death, progressive and melodic metal from more than two decades of their catalogue.
Any thoughts that the band’s recent evolution towards a more melodic brand of metal – or their conservative surrounds at the historic venue – would discourage them from visiting their death metal roots throughout the evening were quickly – and brutally – disavowed.
Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s famous death growl and sardonic wit were both on full display from early in the night; after a perhaps-predictable yet powerful opening with the title track from new offering Sorceress, Åkerfeldt noted the hundred or so fans in the choir seats directly behind him had “the best seats in the house” with a saucy tap of his derriere before the band then launched into seminal classic “Ghost of Perdition” from 2005’s Ghost Reveries.
That was immediately followed by death metal anthem “Demon of the Fall” from 1998’s My Arms Your Hearse, and after six minutes of beauty and violence anyone who had been in doubts about what sort of concert they were in for were well and truly aware three tracks in.
As with any Opeth gig, the banter from the stage was a recurring highlight. Noting the chance to play in such a renowned venue, Åkerfeldt commented that the band does so many live shows he tends to remember cities rather than concerts, but this one was different.
“Sometimes I even hope concerts get cancelled so I can stay in my hotel room and watch cooking shows,” he deadpanned. Maybe it was a particular moment of empathy for those forced to make the agonising choice between Opeth and the latest episode of My Kitchen Rules. Or maybe he actually likes cooking shows.
The night actually included at least one track from every album from My Arms Your Hearse onwards; other highlights of the first set were fan favourite “The Drapery Falls” from Blackwater Park – a track that captures the band’s theme of juxtaposition between light and dark, loud and soft, melody and chaos better than almost any other – as well as “Still Life’s Face of Melinda” and “Pale Communion’s Cusp of Eternity”.
The hall was soaked blood red by the house lights for the haunting “Devil’s Orchard” and the high domed ceiling reverberated Åkerfeldt’s powerful vibrato as he sung “Take the road where devils speak/’God is dead’/In the corner of my eye/ tearing flesh from bone.”
“Watershed’s Heir Apparent”‘s themes of chaos and dissonance were perfectly captured by keys man Joakim Svalberg alternating between delicate chords and madly smashing his fists and even elbows into his instrument. (continued below)
And if the high-culture surrounds did little to dissuade the band from delving deep into their death metal catalogue it did less to dissuade the crowd from indulging in that most Australian of concert-going traditions, namely ‘yelling dumb shit out during the quiet bits’.
The perfect acoustics of the main hall may even have encouraged it, given any well-timed drunken shout was audible to every person in the room. Still, surely you could do better than “play Wonderwall” or “play Khe Sanh” or “play ABBA”? (“I actually love ABBA,” Åkerfeldt noted. “I once danced with Agnetha Fältskog”.)
It did lead to some amusing moments (“We love you Slipknot!” was quickly met by “and we love you too, Austria) and really, the only sour note of the night actually took place months earlier when the Opera House’s woefully under-equipped ticketing system led to countless tears of frustration or disappointment for legions of fans.
Some fans were additionally caught out when the expected intermission proved to be barely 60 seconds and seemingly half the crowd was in beer lines or the bathroom when the Damnation portion of the evening commenced with “Windowpane” to rows and rows of empty seats.
“Has the crowd left? That kinda sucks. It’s not a really good sign,” Åkerfeldt shrugged as the absent fans slowly filed back in.
Another three tracks from the 2003 melodic outing followed in the shape of “Death Whispered a Lullaby”, “In My Time of Need” and “Closure”. But if anyone was starting to get comfortable in the back seat thinking they were going to be chilling out to a full set of Damnation, Opeth immediately yanked the wheel – hard – into oncoming traffic.
The brutal sister album to Damnation, 2002’s Deliverance, provided a savage three-track closing to the night that was virtually a full set on its own, running close to 40 minutes.
“Master’s Apprentices: was followed by just the fourth ever – and final ever, according to Åkerfeldt – live performance of the ridiculously complex “By the Pain I See in Others”. (“If there are extra bits or some missing, don’t worry, that’s a bonus just for you guys,” Åkerfeldt offered).
A night titled ‘An Evening of Sorcery, Damnation and Deliverance’ was only ever going to end one way and after a weighty 2.5 hours plus on stage, thus it was.
First Åkerfeldt commanded the crowd to their feet at long last (“are you all going to be lazy cunts the whole night?”) as Opeth closed the show the same way they did last time they appeared in Sydney – with the towering, chugging, crunching title track “Deliverance”. As the final four instrumental minutes of that 13-minute 36-second epic brought the gig to a, soaring, breathtaking close there could be no question Opeth had laid on the kind of show you can look back on in decades to come and think “I was there”.