“You know what’s a funny feeling? Knowing that, before you go onstage, you’re going to remember the gig that you are about to play forever.”
These where the words of Opeth front man Mikael Akerfeldt in his first exchange to the sold-out Sydney Opera House crowd at the band’s landmark “Evening of Sorcery” show on Monday night. Truer words have never been spoken. The prospect of seeing the progressive metal legends at such an esteemed venue was exciting enough. The fact that the band were showcasing material from their 2002 companion albums, the dark death metal of Deliverance and the heartbreaking musings of Damnation, made it an absolute must-see. It was a show that even the band themselves had admitted was set to “blow their minds.”
There is no finer venue to play in Australia than the Sydney Opera House. From The Sydney Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic and Opera Australia to Tame Impala, Bon Iver, Hiatus Kaiyote and Deafheaven, the venue has increasingly become a hub for the eclectic – now considered ‘high art’ alongside the ballet or a symphony. However, the prospect of blast-beats, death growls and jazz fusion jams was completely uncharted territory for the venues coveted concert hall stage, and the prospect of such a special show in such an esteemed room promised, as affirmed by Akerfeldt, a night that would live forever in memory.
2,000 leather-clad metal heads sitting in chairs in this historic venue is an incredibly amusing sight. The novelty felt surreal, a feeling which increased sharply when the band arrived and launched into Sorceress, the title track of their latest, incredible album. The metal had arrived at the House, and the sound was simply huge.
The venue is tailor built for maximum dynamic effect after all. The sound was stunning. As per tradition, the band showcased a song off each album from their back catalogue, bar the two feature albums of the evening, along with a collection of new tunes, all of which took on an incredibly cinematic life in the venue. Ghost Of Perdition saw the first death growls for the evening, with Akerfeldt’s guttural roars exploding through the venue, whilst crowd-favourite Face Of Melinda was seemingly made for halls like these with its dynamic swells.
It was immediately clear that the band were having the time of their lives. Traditionally quite reserved on stage, the chemistry between guitarists Akerfeldt and Fredrik Akesson was infectious, with the pair constantly communicating and bouncing off each other, most noticeable in the pulsating Cusp Of Eternity. The playing of drummer Martin Axenrot could only be described as joyful, as he and bassist Martin Mendez provided the glue that kept the complex arrangement together, whilst keyboardist Joakim Svalberg constantly engaged the crowd sitting in the stalls behind the stage, as well as providing a dazzling collection of solos, particularly mind-blowing on The Wilde Flowers.
Akerfeldt also lived up to expectations as the “funny guy” of death metal with his consistent banter with the crowd. With remarks ranging from the size of the venue (“It’s actually kind of….tiny inside”), to how he felt before playing normal shows (“you kind of want it to get cancelled so you can watch a cooking show”) it was clear that he and the band were at ease in the setting. The sense of humour that ran throughout the show could be summed up by one simple exchange:
Fan: “I love you Slipknot”
Akerfeldt: “I love you too, Austria.”
As the first half of the show concluded with a stunning rendition of personal favouriteThe Drapery Falls, the band exited the stage and half the audience rushed for the doors no doubt wanting a beer before the second half of the show began. No sooner was I outside my door however than the opening strains of Damnation opener Windowpane could be heard from within the venue- the band didn’t have any interval at all but had merely gone off for a brief drink and half the audience had mistakenly left. As about 700 people stampeded back to their seats for the second half of the show, the band carried on with a collection of cuts from the soft and grim Damnation record, pulling out Closure and Death Whispered A Lullaby, a song which Akerfeldt revealed had been mostly penned by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree.
After half an hour of softer numbers from the album, there was only one way to turn, and that was to the extreme heaviness of Deliverance. Akerfeldt and co. pulled out all the stops for the heavier material, unveiling Masters Apprentice and, to everyone’s delight, rarity By The Pain I See In Others for its fourth and “probably final” live airing. Both numbers sounded huge in the cavernous concert hall but the Swedes saved the best till last, dropping the legendary title track of Deliverance to close out the evening. To me, this song is the epiphany of all things Opeth and one of the finest musical compositions across all genres. Such was the power of the song in the live setting that I found myself holding back tears as the weight of the song washed over the crowd, with the song’s legendary final riff prompting a sea of windmilling, headbanging and horns thrust in the sky.
There is nothing worse than a special event not living up to expectations and, if I’m honest, I wasn’t convinced before the start of the show that the band would be able to pull off three hours of death metal at such an unusual venue. But the reality is that Opeth at the Sydney Opera House was the best show that I have ever seen.
For three hours the band held the crowd spellbound, dazzling us with their technical skill and showing the masses that metal with sheer feeling and emotion far outweighs anything that relies on speed or skill. Opeth is truly one of a kind, and those in attendance for their show in Sydney have been given something to cherish in memory for many years to come.
Image: Rolling Stone Australia