Review Summary: A beautiful and timely reminder of why Opeth are one of metal’s biggest acts
It’s fair to say that when a band releases a live CD, only the most faithful of fans would consider picking it up, for what you tend to find is that they are watered down, less consistent versions of studio efforts from years ago, simply dug out of the memory box for a run-through for the fans to go wild at. “In Concert Live at the Royal Albert Hall” is Opeth’s third attempt to truly capture the majesty of their studio efforts into a live format, and the timing could not be much better. 2010 is the year that Opeth turn twenty, having replaced 4 members and churned out nine albums in the process and “Live in Concert...” is the best way of remembering them. What Opeth have provided is an impressive 150 minutes of beautiful progressive metal, which should change any listener’s opinion about live albums in general.
The bands set is split into two parts-one half is an entire run-through of their “breakthrough” album “Blackwater Park”, while the second is a run-through of every album to date, picking the best from each and playing them in chronological order. This leads me onto one of very few gripes with the album-I would have much preferred a complete set from “Still Life” or “My Arms, Your Hearse”, not necessarily because they are better albums but because they are more varied, and much rarer to be heard in an Opeth concert. But nevertheless, the first half of the set is a cracking run-through of an Opeth great. The guitars on “Blackwater Park” have even more bite behind them than on the studio version, while the beautifully serene “Harvest” echoes throughout the venue, swallowing the listener (and no doubt the audience) in a myriad of beautiful acoustic guitar. This song in particular is made even better by the remarkable efforts of Mikael Akerfeldt on vocals. The man’s cleans are pitch perfect and while his growls do occasionally sound a tad odd (The Lotus Eater in particular), they largely go unnoticed. The higher end growls required for the bands earlier work sound impeccable on this CD, and only on the odd occasion do his deeper efforts from later albums (Deliverance in particular) fade away.
But Akerfeldt should not be the only member singled out. Martin Axenrot gives a faultless effort on the drum stool, and Martin Mendez stands off to the side, doing his amusing sideways headbang and adding another depth to the songs. And even though Fredrik Akesson manages to hold up “The Lotus Eater” by 3 minutes with a broken guitar, his lead passages are remarkable. The stuttering open guitar lines of performance of the night “Advent” have some extra punch behind them, and the atmospheric, souring notes of “Harlequin Forest” have never sounded quite as emotional as now.
In fact, the only real problem with the whole set as a whole is the lack of Per Wiberg. Considering that in the extras he describes himself “as the forgotten guy at the back” it is intriguing that he is left out of the mix quite so much. Surely he would want to make his small parts of prominence memorable, and above all, distinguishable? But no! Granted, on “The Lotus Eater” his keyboard interlude shines through, but on one of his best performances to date “Harlequin Forest” he fades inexplicably away. As for the rest of the set, he just stands there, occasionally taps a few keys and swings his mane to and fro. Plus, by playing one song from each studio album, it is inevitable that Opeth were going to miss out some of the fans favourites. There is no “In the Mist she was Standing”, no “Demon of the Fall”, but perhaps most importantly no “Ghost of Perdition”. To miss out such huge songs in Opeth’s back catalogue is, in my eyes at least, inexcusable. Thankfully, their replacements happen to be some of the best efforts of the night.
What Opeth has given us with “In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall” is nothing short of a phenomenal live album. The band pull one or two surprise rabbits out of the hat which shake up their usual live set, the music is tight and refined, and the setting add to the atmosphere of one very special night in Opeth’s discography. Thank god the band didn’t stick to their original plan and play about in a pub.
Songs of the night:
2. Blackwater Park
3. Advent (performance of the night, easily)
4. The Moor
5. Harlequin Forest (even if Per Wiberg goes somewhat unnoticed)