|Opeth/Pain Of Salvation - London, Brixton Academy -13th November 2011|
|Written by Jim Rowland|
|Tuesday, 22 November 2011 04:45|
Around this time of year, you start to look back on the best albums of the year. In the Prog department, there weren't many better than Pain Of Salvation's 'Road Salt Two' and Opeth's 'Heritage', so when I got the chance to head down to Brixton to catch the both of them sharing a stage, it was a no-brainer.
London Transport's wonderful Sunday service ensured I had a sweat on as to whether I'd get there in time for Pain Of Salvation, but luckily the gods of prog were looking down on me, as I just had time to get my pint at the bar and take my place at the front of the stalls as the lights dimmed and POS hit the stage, launching into 'Softly She Cried'. A dodgy microphone almost makes frontman Daniel Gildenlow miss the first line of the song, but he just makes it to the backing vocal mike in time to deliver this scorching opening cut from 'Road Salt Two'. The bulk of POS's set tonight is taken from the two 'Road Salt' albums but it's 'Ashes', going all the way back to 2000's 'The Perfect Element', that's up next and gives us a taste of the band's older material which sounds just fine. A triple whammy from 'Road Salt Two' follows, in the shape of 'Conditioned', '1979' and 'To The Shoreline'. 'Conditioned's' up tempo infectious groove gets the crowd moving, before the acoustic comes out for '1979' and 'To The Shoreline' - two of 'Road Salt Two's highlights. Although neither track is a fast rocker, it's these two that captivate the audience completely, both being exceptionally well written tunes. 'To The Shoreline' is particularly majestic. I wondered whether they would be able to recreate this one live, but they pull it off with ease and it's the highlight of the set for me.
'Fandango' goes back further in time to 2002's 'Remedy Lane' and is by far the most progressive, technical and challenging moment of their set. It's a very difficult song to perform, as Gildenlow acknowledges, but they get through it just fine and certainly impress the crowd by doing so. 'Linoleum' and the Lennon flavoured 'No Way', two killer cuts from 'Road Salt One', wrap things up in superb fashion with the extended guitar work out of 'No Way' providing a fitting finale to a highly impressive set which is well appreciated by the whole crowd.
It's rare you see a support act of this quality and it would be great to see Pain Of Salvation return to this shoreline for some headline shows and a full length set some time soon.
Opeth's 'Heritage' album seems to have created quite a stir, and there's certainly mixed feelings from the fan base about it. The older fans of the band's death metal infused sound don't seem to have warmed to it as much, but fans of the band's progressive rock sound which has been creeping in for several albums now, are lapping it up. I fall into the latter category. Mikael Akerfeldt has certainly drawn a line in the sand with this album and these shows, as for the first time ever it's official - the Cookie Monster has finally left the building! No more growly death metal vocal moments from our Mike, all we are left with is his pure and quite beautiful natural singing voice, and I for one welcome this.
Opeth's set tonight is rather heavily focused on the new material from 'Heritage' but there are a few old chestnuts thrown in during the course of the set. 'The Devil's Orchard' and 'I Feel the Dark' are the two opening cuts from 'Heritage' and hence also kick off tonight's proceedings in impressive fashion. 'Face Of Melinda' from the 'Still Life' album delves into the band's distant history to appease some of the older fans, although this once again is one of that album's mellower moments. 'Watershed's' 'Porcelain Heart' features a rather fine drum solo from Martin Axenrot, with the band standing around casually watching it from the stage, defying the usual convention of leaving the stage to the drummer.
'Nepenthe' is probably the most challenging listen from the new album, with its jazz rock leanings, but this seems to enthral the audience and goes down a storm. Up next is a three song stripped down acoustic section of three older tunes in the shape of 'The Throat Of Winter', 'Closure', and 'Credence', providing a fine calm before the storm of the set's last section.
'Slither' is perhaps the odd one out from 'Heritage' as it sounds incredibly like an old classic Dio-era Rainbow tune. It all makes sense when Akerfeldt explains that he was the number one Dio fan and that the song was written as homage to the great man. The epic 'A Fair Judgement' goes back to 'Deliverance' and is quite spectacular, as is set closer 'Hex Omega', complete with Akerfeldt's mischievous false start of Whitesnake's 'Slow and Easy' which most of the crowd don't seem to recognise anyway. For me though, Opeth save the best till last for the stunning encore of 'Folklore' - not just the best track on 'Heritage' in my book, but one of Opeth's very finest moments to date. It may have the air of classic old bands like Jethro Tull and Camel to it, but it still retains the stamp of Opeth and is a fitting end to a superb and ground breaking performance.
The 'Heritage' album and this tour are the culmination of a long journey Opeth have undertaken over several years towards the dark side of the prog genre. Critics of the new album and the move away from the band's death metal roots can hardly be surprised; it's been patently obvious this was coming for years now. I was expecting a bit more of a backlash than they actually did receive tonight. Sure there were a few heckles, with "You sound like Yes - but not in a good way!" being one of the best, along with the inevitable "Jazz Odyssey!" Spinal Tap reference, but on the whole Opeth won the crowd over with ease, and when you see a fan wearing a Van Der Graaf Generator T-shirt standing next to one wearing an Obituary shirt you know there's a shift in this band's audience going on. Opeth are now firmly placed at the top of the modern progressive rock tree, and deservedly so. Having said that, you wouldn't put it past Mikael Akerfeldt to defy the odds and come back with a pure death metal album next time - but for that we'll have to wait and see!
Tonight was a top night of modern progressive rock, Swedish style, as Pain Of Salvation also made a huge contribution to this being a truly great event. I for one look forward to welcoming both bands back to the UK and hopefully very soon.