Review Summary: Just one question: why?
If there's one thing I'm certain about when it comes to metalheads, it's that a large majority of them are insanely loyal. How else do you explain the fact that people actually bought The X Factor
and Virtual XI
? How else to rationalise the fact that people still think that, 16 years since they did anything noteworthy, Metallica's next album won't suck? And how else to make sense of the fact that a second Opeth live album in two years is being greeted so fervently?
I can't deny that the quality of Opeth's music on the five albums stretching from 1998's My Arms, Your Hearse
to 2003's Damnation
has played a massive part in the respect and adoration they still command, but the fact remains that if Opeth were not a metal band they wouldn't be able to get away with this. 2005's Ghost Reveries
was the first studio album since 1995's debut album, Orchid
, that wasn't met with blanket critical acclaim. (What's more, it even led to a minor bandwagon of people attacking their earlier albums, slamming the band as formulaic and boring.) They've followed that up with Lamentations
, which contained Damnation
in full before moving into their more typical material. Fine - a placeholder live album seemed a smart thing to do at that point, since, in theory, it would allow the band time to retreat and really focus on making their new album as good as it needed to be to maintain their audience and stop the backlash in its tracks.
So why, pray tell, have Opeth released The Roundhouse Tapes
? The obvious answer is that a whole studio album has been released since Lamentations
was recorded, and that this will shift the focus toward that album. I'd buy that if there was more than one song from Ghost Reveries
on here - yet it's outnumbered two to one by both Blackwater Park
and My Arms, Your Hearse
, and matched by Morningrise
, Still Life
, and Orchid
. Quite simply, there is no reason for this album to exist. Can the band seriously be so desperate to escape their contract wth Roadrunner already? I can't think of another reason why they'd think two live albums in a row is acceptable.
We can at least say that this is a good deal better than Lamentations
. Its flaws are relatively minor ones - Akerfeldt's between-song banter is frequently embarrassing, the vocals are mixed a little too high, some of the vocals on "Bleak" are a little slack, the 4 minutes Akerfeldt spends introducing the band are just awful, the band don't make much effort to change the songs from their studio versions - but those are easily overlooked, because the music is as solid as ever. Although there's simply no way to avoid arguments over song choice when it comes to a band as loved as Opeth are, they've at least cherry picked "Bleak", "Face of Melinda", and "Windowpane", each the finest moment of its respective album. The other song choices may be a little surprising (with the exception of the massively predictable "Demon Of The Fall"), but they're still good ones.
And you know, that's just about all one can say about this album. That's just one of the reasons it's so baffling that this has been released now. Not only does it invite obvious comparisons with Lamentations
in which one album's reputation, if not both, will suffer needlessly, it also means that the patience of the fans is being tested. I can't be the only person who feels it's arrogant for the band and the label to assume that people will pay for a live album just a year after they shelled out for the last one (and probably the accompanying DVD). It's little short of exploitative. Morals aside, you also have to wonder what exactly the appearance of this album says about Opeth's new line-up. Let's not forget that the band who recorded this album had just lost one of their members in Martin Lopez and seen him replaced by Martin Axenrot, and since then, they've also lost Peter Lindgren and replaced him with Fredrik Akesson. Now consider what people would be saying if, say, Radiohead replaced two members and released two consecutive live albums in two years before even attempting to record new material. Wouldn't people begin to speculate that the wheels were falling off? Wouldn't their fans be bracing themselves for the seemingly inevitable announcement that they'd split for good?
Not that I'm suggesting that Opeth are doomed. It's inescapable though that despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with the music on here when taken out of context, the existance of this album makes me feel quite worried and slightly angry. Opeth have a brand new line-up, and they should be looking to the future and celebrating what they might achieve from this point on, not digging their heels in and refusing to leave the past behind. This is the kind of move a band with no ideas makes; it's not befitting of a band who boast probably the biggest cult following in music, and who are widely acknowledged as being at the forefront of metal. I still have confidence that their next album proper will be at least as good as Ghost Reveries
(hopefully better), but The Roundhouse Tapes
has given that faith quite a kicking.