Opeth

support Alcest
author AP date 09/11/14 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

It was my intention to post this review already yesterday evening, however my mind was unable to function in the aftermath of the explosion which one Christopher Nolan induced in there with his latest masterpiece, Interstellar. Apologies thus for the delay in bringing you my thoughts on one of three excellent concerts taking place in Copenhagen this past Sunday (Cannibal Corpse et. al, and Kadavar were also in town, so the choice, for me, was a tough one): the well attended, nearly sold out gig at Store Vega featuring Swedish progressive metal colossos Opeth and French shoegazers Alcest.

All pictures by Peter Troest

Alcest

It is a privilege to open for such esteemed gentlemen as Opeth, and without exaggeration, it is difficult to imagine a band better suited for the job than Alcest, who of late have been captivating the minds and hearts of not just metal heads, but some of the hippest media in the world - this by virtue of their latest album "Shelter", which came out in January this year but has not, for some inexplicable reason, been graced by a review on this webzine yet. The group's transformation from blackened post-metal to a softer, shoegazing style may have alienated parts of their fanbase, but there is no denying the fact that it also earned their music a host of new connoisseurs. It is still challenging, evocative, and above all skillfully written music, but hints of the band's metallic origins are nigh impossible to detect in the new material. Which, of course, appeals to a cultured man like Mikael Åkerfeldt, who no doubt handpicked Alcest for this spot. But I digress.

Alcest are not blessed by the best mix tonight: the instruments come through with clarity, yes; but vocalist Stéphane Paut (aka. Neige)'s singing is much too low, with opening track "Opale" thus becoming more of an instrumental piece in the ears of all but those of us with plugs pressed firmly into our ear canals. It is clear already at this point that Alcest create allure not through eruptions of energy on stage, but from the intoxicating beauty of their music. Listening to a song like "Autre temps", how can one not descend into an ecstatic sort of hypnosis? The vocal harmony between Neige and guitarist Zero is chilling, the song's shamanic tone thoroughly arresting - even with the singing mixed so low; and one wonders how anyone could have slammed Alcest for writing music like this, nevermind how much heavier the stuff from 2007's "Souvenirs d'un autre monde" and 2010's "Écailles de lune" is.

The difference is striking, it must be said, when "Percées de lumière" from the latter is aired, and the inclusion of such a track adds much needed diversity to the otherwise tranquil proceedings. There is an element of atmospheric black metal to "Là où naissent les couleurs nouvelles", too, to reinforce the contrasts, and truly, when "Délivrance" (taken off "Shelter") concludes the proceedings like the soundtrack to prehistoric Earth, it is difficult to slight the band for much else than issues with the sound. With classy nonchalance, Alcest produce an elegant beginning to a show that, without a doubt, will continue in elegant style as the minutes clock by.

Opeth

In stark opposition to the cool manner in which Alcest carried themselves, the Swedish pioneers enter with true bravado, amid dancing lights that foreshadow something of a spectacle later on and backed by three intricate banners welcoming to a mass at the church of Opeth. Once the introductory music (Popol Vuh's "Through Pain to Heaven") gives way to opening track "Eternal Rains Will Come", there is the instant sense that tonight's show cannot go wrong. The volume is appropriately towering, and whatever issues with the mix that plagued Alcest's set have been obliterated, allowing the progressive grandeur of Opeth's music to drill its way into every nerve ending the human body has to offer.

The sensory inputs emanating from the stage are staggering in their numbers, and exhilirating in their nature, the tense foundation riff from "Cusp of Eternity" resonating with even more urgency than on record (the latest LP "Pale Communion" from whence the aforementioned opening track also was taken); its mingling with Joakim Svalberg's Pink Floyd-esque Hammond organ swirls and Fredrik Åkesson's lead bits producing an absolutely staggering live experience of a song that was already a definitive highlight on its parent record. No instrument has been forgotten in the mix, and as such, throughout the lengthy set which Opeth have in store for us tonight, there is almost too much texture in the songs to comprehend, bassist Martín Méndez and drummer Martin Axenrot both enjoying a prominent presence in one of the most balanced mixes I've heard in some time.

But none of this would matter much were it not for the underlying quality of Opeth's repertoire - and of that, we are blessed with a veritable treasure chest of a setlist including one song from each of the band's 11-album discography (bar the debut "Orchid", sadly), and three from the latest. One could of course argue in favour of a greater focus on "Pale Communion" given it was just released this past summer and may well rank among the year's finest albums for yours truly. But to do so would be to deny the opportunity to hear songs as great and even greater from one of the most consistent and diverse discographies in metal. Songs like the classic "Bleak", the beautiful "Windowpane" and the always riveting "Grand Conjuration" are no-brainers, but on top of such timeless tracks, Opeth also give rarer picks like "The Moor" "Advent" and "April Ethereal", all of which sound nothing short of unreal in their live renditions, a well deserved airing.

Opeth perform with their customary conviction, and with all the energy appropriate for such progressive and technically demanding music. This is fixating - but as most people reading this review will be aware of, that is one half of what makes Opeth such a thrilling band to watch live. The other half, of course, is frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt, whose between-song banter is the stuff of legend. His Swedish heritage also means that his dry humour and ping-pong with the audience is given an extra notch upward when performing here in Denmark. I lose count of the times he assures us Stockholm is the capital of Scandinavia or when he translates a phrase like "tak så mycket" into gargling nonsense (what he feels Danish sounds like), but stoking the flames of a friendly rivalry though he may be, his observations are always met by roaring laughter - particularly so when he attemps to decipher the adoration of a fan near the front: "You say the Pavarotti of Sweden? I should take it as a compliment, but he's fat, he's Italian, and he's dead."

As the set nears its end at past two hours, the time seems to have whiffed by without notice. Such is the ability of Opeth to entertain (though this is notoriously difficult to agree with at the band's festival shows, I know) with a show of few weaknesses. Opeth may play in Denmark at least once a year, but if they're going to continue putting on performances like this, they may as well play five times a year. Absolutely enthralling.

9

Setlist:

  • 1. Eternal Rains Will Come
  • 2. Cusp of Eternity
  • 3. Bleak
  • 4. The Moor
  • 5. Advent
  • 6. Elysian Woes
  • 7. Windowpane
  • 8. The Devil's Orchard
  • 9. April Ethereal
  • 10. The Lotus Eater
  • 11. The Grand Conjuration

--Encore--

  • 12. Deliverance

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