OPETH @ Astor Theatre gets 8/10

Opeth @
Astor Theatre
w/ Voyager
Wednesday, December 11, 2019


Opeth is an institution unto itself. Long revered as death metal’s top tier, the band increasingly dipped its toes in folk and progressive rock before taking the plunge completely with 2011’s Heritage and not looking back, with frontman Mikael Akerfelt’s death growls becoming a thing of the past. Their turn from death metal icons to progressive rock purists initially alienated fans, but if Opeth’s gig at the Astor on Wednesday night was anything to go by, the band has settled on a pleasant middle ground, treating fans to the full prog metal spectrum of light and heavy.


Opening proceedings were Perth’s own prog metallers Voyager. Darlings of the local metal scene since the early 2000s, Voyager are now an internationally recognised act. Their set demonstrated why – it was a tight performance, with Daniel Estrin’s soaring vocals particularly on point. Their latest album Colours in the Sun is a tight and consistent pop prog outing and the set featured choice cuts in Severomance, Brightstar, and Colours. The latter was particularly amusing as Estrin confirmed the song’s debt to 80s synth pop and gave a joking “fuck you” to anyone born after 1990 (out of jealousy, of course). The set also made sure to feature some keytar noodling (prefaced with the question “would you like keytar noodling?”) to open fan favourite Misery is Only Company, and the band closed strong with Ascension.


In contrast to Voyager’s more bright and energetic display, Opeth struck starker figures when they came on stage to a backing of Gregorian chants. Far from masters of darkness however, Opeth strikes you more nowadays as a crew of seasoned record store dwellers with the ability to translate all their musical loves into glorious epics. Akerfelt somehow managed to look completely casual, dressed like Clint Eastwood’s man with no name, cowboy hat and all. His relaxed stage banter was a delight throughout, and his asides about Swedish Australian import beer (apparently called Crocodile, to cash in on the Dundee craze) and the Gothenburg vs Stockholm rivalry were welcome trivia.

The band opened with a spirited rendition of Dignity from their latest LP In Cauda Venenum. They sometimes opted for the Swedish versions of their latest album tracks in what was a refreshing (and very Opeth) decision. The white noise riffage of Leper Affinity came next and got the crowd going, confirming that death metal was on the menu. The band navigated through the song’s knotty riffs with ease and the crowd was loving it.


If there was a complaint against the set it’s that in the early going, some tracks sounded muddy, with Akerfelt’s vocals sometimes buried in the mix. The band returned to newer material with Heart in Hand and Continuum, during which there were a few instances of Akerfelt’s voice not coming through as clearly as it could have. The tracks still sizzled though, particularly Heart In Hand which featured a mad Jon Lord-esque organ solo from keyboardist Joakim Svalberg. The only other mark against the set was the questionable inclusion of Nepenthe, a jazzy and more free-form deep cut from Heritage which was a tad too quiet. With so much audience chatter audible, it felt more like an intermission than it should have.

The rest of the set served up one epic after another. The sound balance improved throughout and the band’s energy went from strength to strength. Opeth have one of the strongest discographies in all of metal and track selection was mostly excellent, a mix of old and new and with some unexpected favourites making an appearance.


Reverie / Harlequin Forest was a tad unexpected and great to hear live, featuring some adept acoustic guitar work from Mikael and great keyboard textures at the end. Moon Above, Sea Below was a great take on one of the best Opeth epics of the last decade, all swelling mellotrons and electric piano, and with Mikael nailing the cathartic ending. Death Whispered a Lullaby was powerful and featured the solo of the night, on a night that was chock full of them. Axeman Fredrik Akesson is a magician, able to shred on a dime but especially shining on slower solos. Lotus Eater was a brilliant surprise and a personal favourite, with the band carrying off the track’s keyboard-funk breakdown to perfection.


The extended encore gave the crowd their money’s worth and was a worthy conclusion to the show. New cut All Things Will Pass was given new life on stage, its main riff taking flight in what will likely become a live staple. Sorceress was a sterling rendition of a live Opeth must, an epic 70s-inspired metal number and arguably their most popular song of the recent era. And finally back to basics – the crushing double-kicks and technical stop/start brilliance of death metal thrasher Deliverance. As the lights flared and the band finished with a final clockwork riff, one doubts many punters would have left unsatisfied. A great selection of career pickings from one of the best metal bands this millennium.


Photos by Damien Crocker

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