11 December 2019
Photos by Caris Morcombe
No matter how many times one sees them live, Sweden’s Opeth always manage to bring a sense of occasion to proceedings. And on Wednesday night in Perth they proved that this was no exception. Armed with the brand new songs from their latest album In Cauda Venenum they not only showcased these but delved deep into their back catalogue for a musical journey unlike any witnessed at the Astor Theatre in recent years.
Perth’s own prog powerhouse quintet, Voyager, proved to be the perfect opening act for the night. Opening with ‘Severomance, it’s very very clear that the songs from the new album Colours in the Sun are going over massively well. Judging by the huge grin on vocalist Daniel Estrin’s face he’s also having immense fun playing them as well.
‘Brightstar’ was yet another new song that showed that the band are in possession of some formidable songwriting abilities as well, it’s anthemic positivity filling every corner of the packed room.
It’s an inevitable occurrence at a Voyager show to see Estrin strap on his Keytar and show off his prowess. He and bassist Alex Canion harmonise together so well, adding another melodic element to the huge wall-of-sound driving beats.
What Voyager present both live and on record is a seriously world class polished act worthy of the biggest stages on the planet. With a sound that’s spearheaded by the formidable twin guitar attack of Simone Dowe and Scott Kay, underpinned by Ashley Doodkorte’s relentless percussive beats Voyager have managed to create a sound that’s both heavy and joyous simultaneously. Something many of their peers have yet to successfully achieve.
There’s this underlying element to what Voyager do that seamlessly melds progressive heavy music with at times an almost dance music element. And this is certainly no bad thing. Instead it sits them firmly at the forefront of the prog metal genre on any scale.
Finishing off their all too brief set with ‘Ascension’, one is left with the inevitable feeling that our little backwater town is soon to be far too small and dark a place for these bright stars of the prog rock world.
Against the black backdrop of the band’s logo, Opeth took to the stage and laid immediately into ‘Svekets Prins’ (Dignity for those who don’t understand Swedish) from their latest album. Looking for all the world like a cross between George Harrison and the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, frontman, Mikael Akerfeldt, instantly established himself as the main focal point for the band. One could certainly have forgiven him for eschewing his usual stage garb thanks to the absolutely sweltering heat of the day, but he pulled off the rock star look with ease. With a vocal style that swings between the melancholic folk rock of some of the more subdued sections to a full throttle soaring rock delivery his presence stage front is one of the most enigmatic yet commanding ever witnessed.
Changing tack completely with ‘The Leper Affinity’ from 2001’s Blackwater Park, Opeth dove deep intro the past and allowed Akerfeldt the chance to unleash the throaty growl of yesterday. It’s still as incredibly mesmerising a performance now as it was when it first assailed this reviewer’s ears.
‘Hjärtat vet vad handen gör’ (Demon of The Fall) proved again that the band have lost none of their songwriting potency over the years, instead they seem to just keep producing ever increasingly jaw-dropping musical soundscapes that defy the most vivid of imaginations.
In a set that see sawed between songs front their latest and their existing catalogue the band weaved a stunning display of twisted time signatures, achingly beautiful acoustic interludes, soaring retro tinged progressive rock and heavy riff age into a musical form so unique and utterly addictive.
Mikael is a shy and retreating figure out front, and yet when he opens his mouth to speak to the crowd the most wittily hilarious sentences spew forth. Tonight it was mostly about his hat which was “apparently a big deal as it keeps my hair out of my face and let’s me look a little bit Amish”.
A true highlight for this reviewer was ‘Reverie’/’Harlequin Forest’ – the juxtaposition of the two songs, from that demonic growl into gentle acoustic picking and some soaring Floydian solos, and back again, perfectly represents the chameleonic nature of the band and the journey it’s gone through over the past 29 years (next year being the bands 30th anniversary).
Introducing ‘Nepenthe’ from Heritage – the album that undoubtedly cemented the bands long held love for all things 70’s prog rock. – the more relaxed passages seemed a little lost on some members of the crowd and yet the virtuosic showmanship of keyboardist Joakim Svalberg and drummer Martin Axenrot were perfectly in synch, interspersed by the Zappa-esque soloing of Fredrik Akesson.
‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ from Pale Communion was about “not knowing what fucking day of the week it is” which the band quipped amongst themselves seemed to be the case given the difference in time zones.
The atmospheric synth segues between songs only added to the sense of occasion the band bought to the theatre. ‘As Moon Above…’ gave way to the anthemic ‘Hope Leaves’. Its near immaculate delivery with huge washes of organs in the background and Frederick’s guitar work laying down a hypnotic groove, it created a sonic and lyrical spell impossible to escape from until the final dying notes. The notes dissipated, the spell broken, and the audience was bought back to reality. Truly a stunning virtuoso display of musicianship.
The peaceful mood was awoken by the total onslaught of ‘The Lotus Eater’. Taken from the Watershed album, its punishing double kick and alternate soft/heavy vocals created yet another textural mood, a harmonious balance of light and dark, melody and dissonance.
Finishing off the main set with ‘Allting tar slut’ (All Things Will Pass) will remain permanently embedded on this reviewer’s cerebral cortex for decades to come. Eight and a half minutes of despair laden majesty that conjured up a well of emotions worthy of some of the greatest songwriters of our time.
But the band certainly weren’t done yet by a long way. Returning to the stage with the title track from 2016’s Sorceress, there set about laying down one of the dirtiest organ-driven rock this side of Deep Purple. Ritchie Blackmore himself may have attempted something like this in one of his more ambitious musical phases, but probably wouldn’t have felt himself up to the task.
And so it was left to ‘Deliverance’ to send the crowd off into a warm Perth evening. Still one of the darkest tracks amongst there band’s extensive back catalogue, it has lost none of its urgency or brilliance since it was released in 2002. Thirteen minutes during which the gates of hell itself poured forth its very essence upon the world.
Once more, if you have yet to witness Opeth live, you’re amongst the minority yet to be converted. Not for nothing are they still considered to be one of the most stunning live acts on the planet right now, and if this new batch of songs is anything to go by the barrel is well and truly short of running dry any time soon.
In the immortal words of Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum “Do yourself a favour…”