PAIN OF SALVATION
I last saw Pain of Salvation in action at the Dutch ProgPower festival in 2005 where they were plagued by technical difficulties prior to their headline performance so appeared a whopping two hours later than scheduled. Tonight, as Opeth's 2011 European tour rolls into Birmingham, proceedings have also been delayed. This time, as the band's tour manager informed me earlier in the day, it's a tour bus problem (which seems to have plagued Pain of Salvation an inexplicable amount of times of late!), so a notice upon entering the venue apologies for the revised set times. Still, the band hit the stage just after 8pm and, after that overly long wait in Holland, the delay is negligible. Appearing to the instrumental piece 'Road Salt Theme' from the recently released 'Road Salt Two', they're greeted by a few cheers in the crowd as they launch into opener 'Softly She Cries' from said album which is swiftly followed by 'Ashes' from 2000's 'The Perfect Element, Part I'. The band are on fine form, both musically and through their energetic performance, so it's a shame that more of the audience don't seem too taken by what they hear and see. While a large crowd is already gathered in the Academy, many of whom have obviously nabbed a prime spot from which they won't be moving for Opeth later on, an irritatingly large number of people seem to favour chatting instead of watching/listening, which is indicative that the British prog audience are perhaps not quite as open-minded for discovering new bands as they should be (which, in itself, is surely against the mentality and principles of genuinely progressive music anyway). However, many present in the venue do seem quite taken by what they witness and frontman Daniel Gildenlöw tries his best to engender some sort of reaction with witty between-song banter and, at one point, asking if the audience can scream louder than Scotland a couple of nights ago. He's met by a rather subdued reaction but, by the fourth time of asking everyone to yell even louder, he's rewarded with deafening screams from a crowd that, at last, appears to be waking up. With their forty minute set biased towards the two 'Road Salt' works - 'Linoleum' and 'No Way' from the first and '1979', 'To the Shoreline' and the aforementioned 'Softly She Cries' from the second, it's refreshing that Pain of Salvation finish up with the 10+ minutes of 'The Perfect Element'. While the rockier, 70s inspired 'Road Salt' material seems to engender little interest from the bulk of the audience (rather inexplicably so as it sounds utterly awesome in both its recorded and live forms), the Opeth masses are discernibly more interested in this climactical tune. With a promise to return to the UK in February next year for some headline shows, at least they might have won over a few Opeth fans and, if not, then they'll undoubtedly fare better performing to their own audience. With shows on this tour being the last for long-time members, keyboardist Fredrik Hermansson and guitarist Johan Hallgren, both of whom are quitting the band after the tour, it can only be presumed that replacements and/or live session players are already waiting in the wings if gigs are being booked for three months' time. For now, though, subdued crowd reaction or not, Pain of Salvation are, quite simply, fantastic in Birmingham tonight.
Saturday 12th November 2011
The Academy in Birmingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
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PAIN OF SALVATION
Around 9pm, as lights in the Academy dim and ambient backlighting illuminates the 'O' from the Opeth logo on five banners positioned symmetrically around the stage, the audience let rip with roaring cheers. Casually wandering out to even louder noise from the crowd, Mikael Åkerfeldt and co. commence attack with a couple of new album tracks, 'The Devil's Orchard' and 'I Feel the Dark' before dipping into 1999's 'Still Life' for a flawless rendition of 'Face of Melinda'. The band sound amazing through the PA from the off and throughout their two hour set. And it's a set where death vocals are noticeably absent. If the solely clean vocals for new album 'Heritage' have proven a tad controversial amongst the diehard Opeth elite then purely clean vocals for the band's current touring setlist has also stirred a few. This is evidenced after only one song as there's a clearly audible yell from the audience for them to play 'Master's Apprentices' (which Mikael Åkerfeldt shrugs off with an amused grin), and other random heckles to "play something heavier" throughout the night. Fortunately, such inane yells and the insular minded metal fan only seem to form a very small contingent of the crowd (and, bizarrely, I don't recall 'Damnation' causing any such dissension over eight years ago) as most enthusiastically digest everything the Swedes offer up tonight. For me, the lack of death growls is of little significance as Opeth's dynamic isn't defined by the growled singing, rather it's merely an integral part of their overall aesthetic. The songs from 'Heritage', and everything else played tonight, are still chock-full of the band's progressively unique blend of sonic idioms and, if anything, they should be applauded for the brave move to eschew the growls rather than criticised for such. 'Porcelain Heart', complete with drum solo, 'Nepenthe', 'The Throat of Winter', 'Credence' and 'Closure' are all played next. And for those missing the death vocals, Åkerfeldt treats all present to not one, but four renditions of Napalm Death's 1989 two second masterpiece 'You Suffer', albeit it's the crowd who provide growls in an ironically vicarious moment. How? Why?...I hear you ask. Well, the frontman, in the manner of his usual impromptu banter with Opeth's audiences, asks what's the best band from Birmingham. An initial shout of UB40 is rejected by Åkerfeldt as he states his sister used to listen to them all the time although he despised them. A follow-up yell of Napalm Death leads to his offer that he'll play the riff to 'You Suffer' if the audience are willing to 'sing' it. He plays, they growl. Simple as that! The fourth instance of 'You Suffer' is followed by 'Slither' which Åkerfeldt dedicates to Ronnie James Dio, humbly stating that he'll "never be able to sing like him...ever", before storming versions of 'A Fair Judgement' and 'Hex Omega' wrap up their pre-encore set. Exiting the stage and returning after a series of "Opeth" chants from the crowd, Åkerfeldt introduces all band members which seems to take as long as the final song they play, 'Folklore'. New keyboardist Joakim Svalberg is introduced as having previously played with Yngwie Malmsteen to which the frontman borrows from the neo-classical guitar legend's own motto by stating - "Yngwie who? Yngwie fucking Malmsteen, that's who!". Introductions are complete when he ever so modestly claims - "And you all know who I am because I'm so fucking famous!" (and coming from Åkerfeldt, you know the pretension in such a statement is actually a hundred per cent unpretentious). Part of the joy of being an Opeth fan is the band's unpredictability which is the mark of a genuinely progressive act, and that's exactly what the Swedes are. It wouldn't come as a surprise if their next album was a heavied-up, growling affair with a concomitant growl-biased touring setlist. Based on tonight's performance, though, Opeth are stronger than they've ever been. Together with Pain of Salvation, an amazingly fun night's entertainment.
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