Opeth in Concert: There Is Nothing Better

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As some of you might know, Opeth are quite possibly my favorite band in the entire world. Their eclectic blend of death metal, acoustic ballads and jazz-styled breaks make them far beyond a death metal band. Their most recent album, Heritage, is effectively an homage to 70’s prog rock, with no death growls at all, and a focus on contrast and musical sensitivity. Their seventh album, Damnation, is entirely soft and jazz-like, without death growls and without distorted guitars.

The point is, they are technically, musically and compositionally one of the most accomplished bands in the world, and their 20-year, 11-album career has given them a musical prowess unmatched by almost any other band. They are one of those bands that are actually better live than they are on record, and the chance to see them live was an opportunity I simply could not pass up.

So I didn’t.

Rock on!

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IMG_0042I was lucky enough to see them in 2003, right after the release of Deliverance, which contains some of the most rhythmically complex music they’ve ever written, and their performance of the title track was astonishing. I heard it again this time, and if anything they were even better.

Their opening band, Katatonia, were musically accomplished and a good compliment for Opeth, but sadly their singer was not on form, and was out of tune far too often (by contrast, Mikael Åklerfeldt was spot on every time, despite being sick and having a sore throat). I’ll skip them therefore, other than to say that they played a number of my favorite songs, including Day And Then The Shade and Deliberation.

Then it was Opeth’s turn. They opened with the first song from the Ghost Reveries album, Ghost Of Perdition, which was simply perfect. This was their first album after the soft Damnation, and it opens with four slow, gloomy, acoustic chords, and the suspense on the first listen is wonderful, because you don’t know what kind of song it’s going to be…until the guitars blast in, and we’re off on a rampant, heavy journey.

The addition of a keyboard player to the live band is now invaluable, since the majority of their newer stuff relies heavily on rock organs, piano and synths. This meant that the outro of Deliverance was simply beautiful, with the dizzying guitar rhythms and the great, faded-in piano chords:

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They ended up cutting the set slightly short because of Åkerfeldt’s illness, which meant they missed out on The Leper Affinity, one of my all-time favorite songs. I suppose I can’t complain, though – I did see them perform it ten years ago, and I have to give immense credit to him; a lot of singers/musicians would call out sick if they came down with a cold; Opeth have the kind of tenacity and determination that means they’re dedicated to their audience, every single time.

Oh, and there was some amusing banter regarding his moustache.

Opeth

 

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Music I Love: “Tonight’s Decision”, Katatonia (1999)

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Katatonia (not to be confused with Welsh band Catatonia) have been producing miserable and gloomy music for over two decades now, and have only secured and matured their sound with each successive album. Their music could best be described as atmospheric doom metal; metal it is, but there are so many acoustic and quiet sections that it’s hard to define them as “doom” metal, which usually features death growls (of which there are none).

Actually, not quite. Katatonia did start out as a straight up metal band, death growls and all, with their debut release Dance of December Souls introducing their bleak and melancholy sound, but with much heavier guitars and growled vocals. This was followed by Brave Murder Day, on which the absolutely fantastic Mikael Åkerfeldt gave it his all with his trademark death vocals.

And then, it all changed. Åkerfeldt, with his full-time commitment to his band Opeth (about whom I’ve written previously), left, and they were left with Jonas Renske, who was really only a singer, not a growler. And so they released Discouraged Ones, which cemented their style as a clean-sung doom metal band. With tracks such as I Break, they defined a sound of moody, atmospheric and gloomy harmonies, and even the heavy guitars seemed softer, and less intrusive. (The heaviness actually returns later, but at that time they were becoming ever softer).

And then came Tonight’s Decision. Essentially a kind of concept album without a story (only misery and a tirade against an unknown person who seems to have torn Renske’s heart out), it begins with the mesmerizing off-ryhthm guitars of For My Demons, which give way to the heaviness and Renske’s mournful singing:

You would never sleep at night

If you knew what I’ve been through

And this thought is all I have

To trust upon when life is gone

For My Demons – Katatonia, 1999

From here the album winds seamlessly on, a musical journey through slow misery, both heavy and quiet. The gorgeous This Punishment and A Darkness Coming are some of their finest acoustic tracks, heart-rending and beautiful.

Katatonia went on to release Viva Emptiness, which saw a return to the harder and faster style of their roots, maintaining a relatively heavy sound throughout. With The Great Cold Distance came a change in sound, with songs ranging from extremely heavy to very quiet within the space of a few seconds. Bass-heavy and dominating, this sound persisted on Night Is the New Day, though the album was significantly slower in style than The Great Cold Distance and Viva Emptiness.

Their most recent release, Dead End Kings, continues this musical journey, and I can’t wait to see where they go from here. For me though, Tonight’s Decision represents the turning point in their career, where their gloom and doom was really solidified.

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