Last November, Opeth announced that they would play a 25th anniversary show in London in October 2015. Opeth’s previous anniversary tour (Evolution XX in 2010) had only included a handful of dates, and I dared not dream of a show in Helsinki. However, little by little, more performances were announced, and finally a concert in Helsinki was confirmed for October 6th. Ghost Reveries is my favorite Opeth album (or observation, as the booklet says), so it would be an understatement to say I was pumped to hear it in full, along with a second set of songs from the rest of the Swedes’ proggy discography as icing on the cake.
Due to some unfortunate mishaps with public transport, I didn’t arrive at Kulttuuritalo until less than 10 minutes before the show was scheduled to start. I wasn’t the only latecomer, though, as there was still a long line outside the venue. The cloakroom line was painfully slow, but luckily the band seemed to have acknowledged the late-arrivers and took the stage at 19:10 instead of 19:00. I finally found my way to my seat in the middle of “Ghost of Perdition”: this time at Kulttuuritalo would be different for me than the Dream Theater show in August, as back then I’d been standing. The venue was packed due to being sold out (or very near to it), so there clearly was a lot of interest in the show.
As expected, the Ghost Reveries set didn’t disappoint, though before “Beneath the Mire,” frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt warned us that the song “went like shit” when they played it for the first time on the opening night of the tour in Stockholm. Although this was just the second show, I didn’t notice any blatant screw-ups at any point, which goes to show how skilled the musicians in the band are. Speaking of musicianship, the psychedelic “Atonement” ended with an extended jam, during which keyboardist Joakim Svalberg and guitarist Fredrik Åkesson got to show off their chops with brilliant solos.
The moment I’d especially been looking forward to was “Harlequin Forest”, which is my favorite song on the album. The band nailed the heavy rhythmic part at the end, and much to my surprise they even played the hidden track “Reverie”, which is heard before “Harlequin Forest” on the album. The drumless ballad, “Hours of Wealth,” gave Åkerfeldt a chance to show what a soulful singer and guitarist he is. The diabolic video track, “The Grand Conjuration,” seemed to be the last good song on the album for many, as several people headed out during the underrated closer, “Isolation Years” – shame on them! After that tune it was time for a 30-minute break.
At the start of the show, Åkerfeldt had joked that everyone had probably looked up the second set on the internet. However, I hadn’t given in to temptation because I wanted to be surprised. The first song after the intermission was “Eternal Rains Will Come,” which had been the opener for every Opeth show for a year already. As usual, it was followed by “Cusp of Eternity,” which seems to have become a good live song, thanks to its straightforward drive. After a long distorted organ note, the band kicked into “The Leper Affinity” from the classic Blackwater Park (2001). The song had people banging their heads and was clearly what the audience had waited for, but unfortunately drummer Martin “Axe” Axenrot played the double-bass parts pretty slowly, which took away some of the song’s ferocity.
The mellow yet ominous “To Rid the Disease” was a good setlist pick for a venue like Kulttuuritalo and featured great backing vocals by Åkesson. “I Feel the Dark” was the first real surprise for me, because it hadn’t been in any Opeth sets earlier this year and sounded heavier than I’d expected, though it didn’t seem to be a hit among the metalheads. It was followed by yet another new song, “Voice of Treason.” Åkerfeldt once again warned that the song might “sound like shit,” because they didn’t have an orchestra playing with them. The climactic ending sounded good live, but it’s true that the song was missing something because of the lack of strings. Then it was time for the next big surprise of the evening, “Master’s Apprentices.” I’d expected Opeth to represent Deliverance (2002) with its title-track as always, but it was great to hear the “Morbid Angel meets The Beatles” song, which happens to be one of my personal favorites and includes gorgeous vocal harmonies amidst all the brutal riffing. That’s why it was disappointing when the band said “thank you” and exited the stage, just after the energy level had gone up.
The wait for the encore wasn’t long; according to Åkerfeldt, he had to go to the toilet. During the band introduction, Martin Mendez played a short but sweet bass solo and Åkerfeldt introduced himself as Åke, as a response to the constant “Åke!” shouts that had been heard throughout the show. After that, the familiar humming from “The Lotus Eater” was received with a roar of approval. The schizophrenic tune was fun, but I’d heard it last year already, and a classic like “Demon of the Fall” would’ve been a better closer.
I left the show with mixed feelings because of the setlist: this was supposed to be a 25th anniversary concert, but not a single song from the 90s was played. Adding insult to injury was the fact that on the Facebook page of the event it’d been announced that the second set would be 120 minutes long, but in fact Opeth played for an hour and 20 minutes after the intermission. You’d think that after a 30-minute break the band could’ve pulled off two hours of music, especially when bands like Rush and Dream Theater take shorter breaks, although the members of both bands are older and play more technical music.
On the plus side, the visual side of the show was great, as there was a big screen with visuals for each song. For the most part they were animated patterns or pieces of Travis Smith’s album artwork, and during “The Grand Conjuration” there were stills from the song’s music video – nothing too showy, but the projections served their purpose, enhancing the show. For the first set, the band also had candles on stage, which added to the atmosphere.
Opeth performed well, but the members seemed less relaxed than last year when I saw them at Pakkahuone in Tampere. This probably stemmed from the fact that the band hadn’t gotten into the routine yet, having played only one show on the tour. The less-intimate setting of Kulttuuritalo was a great fit for the soft songs and sections, but I think the heavy material and the interaction between the band and the crowd suffered in this environment. Luckily Åkerfeldt’s humor wasn’t absent, as he told us that the band’s backstage antics were tame compared to Mötley Crüe – he’d only had a cup of coffee during the intermission. He also said that a fan had given him a gift, but it was a copy of an album by Tasavallan Presidentti that he already owned. He hinted that he’s looking for the original pressings of two Haikara albums – Finnish prog fans, take note!
All-in-all, the show was good, but unfortunately the second half didn’t measure up to the brilliance of the Ghost Reveries set. I wish the band would at least have played something from My Arms, Your Hearse (1998) and Still Life (1999) instead of doing three songs from Pale Communion (2014). I like newer Opeth as well, but that was way too much for a set that was supposed to span the band’s entire career. Hell, they played more old songs on the actual Pale Communion tour! That said, it’s always a pleasure to see Opeth play its dynamic and adventurous music live, even if the setlist isn’t ideal and the venue not the most suitable.
1. Ghost of Perdition
2. The Baying of the Hounds
3. Beneath the Mire
5. Reverie/Harlequin Forest
6. Hours of Wealth
7. The Grand Conjuration
8. Isolation Years
9. Eternal Rains Will Come
10. Cusp of Eternity
11. The Leper Affinity
12. To Rid the Disease
13. I Feel the Dark
14. Voice of Treason
15. Master’s Apprentices
16. The Lotus Eater