It’s a cold a windswept night at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, at least according to Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt as he addresses the crowd with his famous comedic and self-deprecating banter. This is all part and parcel of an Opeth live show, and this performance at the Red Rocks runs the gamut from sheer Death Metal heaviness through to Progressive acrobatics.
The show begins with the title track from the latest album, Sorceress, a very Progressive offering. Straight away it can be noted that Martin Mendez’ bass, while understated, does have enough space in the mix that it can easily be picked out for explicit listening. The chunky riffs of the song seem to have extra weight in the live environment, while Akerfeldt’s clean vocals cut through beautifully. The latter are offset by backing vocals that offer a very suitable counterpoint.
A pregnant pause of deep, droning lament, strange guitar sounds and the single tolling of a ball leads into the heavy opener of ‘Ghost Reveries,’ Ghost of Perdition – and the crowd goes wild. Akerfeldt’s growls in this song have something of a different texture to the studio version; deeper and raspier. Meanwhile, there is an unsettling prominence to Joakim Svalberg’s keys in the mix, and the guitars are deep and bass-heavy.
Next the band goes all the way back to ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’ for the oldest song in the set, fan favourite Demon of the Fall. Martin Axenrot’s drums may well trump the original in this performance, while Mendez carries off the very identifiable bass groove with aplomb. The acoustic guitar sound that appears is clean and crisp before the launch back into the song’s signature frenetic heaviness; a rolling Metal assault that executes a perfect balance between guitars and keys. At the end of the song, a crowd member calls out; to which Akerfeldt responds, “One of these days, yes, we’re going to play Freebird!”
The Wilde Flowers kicks in strong and crunchy, with Akerfeldt launching into powerful, clean vocals. The chorus is quite hypnotic before the song descends into a quiet, lilting, 70s-influenced bridge. This is followed by a guitar solo in which Fredrik Akesson is nothing short of incredible in his speed and precision.
The next song, In my Time of Need, is a true highlight of this live release, spellbindingly beautiful and deeply emotive with the power and clarity of Akerfeldt’s vocals, and Svalberg’s soulful keys. A slow, mournful performance with even more room to breathe than in the original recording.
The Devil’s Orchard is another song that is presented with seemingly more gravity than the original album version. While it is both dense and intense, at the same time there is a sense of almost Dream Theater-esque musical whimsy in the instrumental section, highlighting that this was the first song to signal Opeth’s move into Progressive Metal in earnest, opening the album ‘Heritage.’
Arguably the strongest track on ‘Pale Communion,’ Cusp of Eternity translates very well in the live setting. This rendition captures the darkness, as well as the Progressive exploration of Opeth in the context of ‘Pale Communion,’ but doesn’t get bogged down by what was largely quite a flat album – on the contrary, the energy remains very high, and the song leads straight into Heir Apparent.
Of course, this is where the mood drops right down, much to the acclaim of the crowd who roar through the early quiet and creepy piano part. Akerfeldt roars his intro into the song, his harsh vocals back on form. Interestingly, the reverb-laden guitar solo halfway through the song has a haunting John Petrucci quality about it, begging the question of who influenced whom more strongly in the ‘Watershed’ / ‘Black Clouds and Silver Linings’ / Progressive Nation era.
Akerfeldt describes Era as “my first cock-rock song,” presumably due to the fast-paced and straightforward riffs, backed by rapid fire drumming. With the big, powerful chorus filling the amphitheatre beautifully, he’s not wrong.
The show ends with, as Akerfeldt says, “If I may say so myself, a classic.” Deliverance is incredibly dense and powerful from the get-go. Axenrot nails the challenging drum part, not only flawlessly, but making it his own. The heaviness and complexity of this song are refined by over a decade of its being the closing standard of Opeth shows, but despite its ubiquitous presence in setlists, this rendition at least is fresh and impactful.
Overall, there is little that could be said to detract from this incredible live performance. Even songs that might have seemed weaker in their original studio forms are truly brought to life, so to speak. Opeth prove that they are still very much masters of their craft, and still capable of building even stronger monoliths of their densest and darkest numbers.
OPETH’S ‘GARDEN OF THE TITANS: OPETH LIVE AT RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE’ IS RELEASED NOVEMBER 2ND. PREORDER YOUR COPY FROM NUCLEAR BLAST HERE!