Opeth are clearly in love with Australia. This is the Swedish prog-metal band’s eighth tour to this part of the world and the venues seem to be getting bigger with each visit. Leaving The Tivoli behind this time and booking the more spacious Grand Ballroom at the Eatons Hill Hotel has afforded the band a more cavernous and acoustically equipped room and an exceptional sound system that tonight is cranked to ear-rattling levels. Fears that the modest reception of eleventh album, the 70s style prog-rock heavy Pale Communion, would keep fans at bay are quickly dispelled as black shirted masses file in to take their place at the foot of the stage for the local openers.
If headliners were decided by ‘beard quantity’ alone – and there is argument to say they should be – facial hair enthusiasts, Caligula’s Horse would get top billing at every festival. Tonight, however, they’ll have to settle for being the first cab off the rank, but as expected they make the most of it. Frontman Jim Grey’s soaring vocals cut through a sea of exemplary musicianship in off-kilter time signatures as the prog-metal locals delve through tracks old and new winning over plenty of Opeth die-hards down the front in the process.
The house lights dim and the stage is illuminated in a blue and green hue as Opeth enters to Popol Vuh’s Through Pain To Heaven. They take their places and kick in to Pale Communion opener Eternal Rains Will Come which is followed in album order by Cusp Of Eternity. These new tracks work better live than the studio recording would have you believe and they slot seamlessly into a set that spans almost their entire 20 plus year career.
The Drapery Falls offers the first sighting of frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt’s signature death growl and also the first sign that this will not just be a Pale Communion showcase. Each album with the exception of debut, Orchid is represented in the set and the surprising diversity of the offering is lapped up by an appreciative audience.
The musicianship on display is of the highest order tonight. These complicated time signatures, poly-rhythms and lightning fast solos are played with the assuredness that can only be attained by thousands of hours spent anchored to their instruments. Tracks like The Devil’s Orchid features noodling guitars out of step with the audience’s nodding heads and tapping feet but somehow locked in with the schizophrenic drumming on display from Martin Axenrod. The song only relents during the handful of times Åkerfeldt announces “God is dead, God is dead” along with the healthy accompaniment of audience members.
Opeth temper the death metal with Windowpane from their clean record, 2003’s Damnation but final track The Grand Conjuration brings the decibels back for a very metal end to the set proper.
There was one thing missing and Opeth stepped back on stage to rectify it, cranking out Deliverence in all of its syncopated brilliance to the still captivated crowd.