Monday 12th November 2012
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Something of an ideal billing for many, Anathema and Opeth are two genuinely innovative bands that undoubtedly share a quota of the same fanbase. And it seems the billing is as desirable for this bunch of Liverpudlians as Danny Cavanagh informs the crowd mid-set with a beaming grin that this is a personal dream come true as he's been wanting to tour with Opeth for many years. His exultant joy is evident throughout the band's forty minute set as he stands proud on Rock City's stage, grinning at both his band mates and audience. A set of two halves, in a sense, we're first treated to modern-day Anathema with 'Untouchable' parts 1 and 2 from latest album 'Weather Systems', and then 'Thin Air' and 'A Simple Mistake' from its predecessor, 'We're Here Because We're Here'. It's at the latter's climax that Lee Douglas exits the stage, having graced the newer material with her sublime voice, and the band switch to retro-mode as they serve up a trio of classic tracks in the form of 'Deep', 'Closer' and 'Fragile Dreams'. Interestingly, while the latest compositions sound phenomenal on the live stage with their sonically emotive shifts from ambient melancholy to heavy intensity and the crowd clap along when prompted to do so, it's the older material that engenders any kind of mass movement from appreciative onlookers, particularly the 'Alternative 4' closer. The real action is on the stage though as, tonight, Anathema are explosive in their performance and at their energetic best during songs' up tempo moments, particularly frontman Vincent Cavanagh who rocks it out with all kinds of wild moves. An avid follower of Anathema over the years this is, quite simply, the best I've seen them so it's a pity that it's merely a fleeting fix.
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Commencing their European tour in Nottingham, it's been a few months since Opeth last hit the road. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt alludes to such a short way into the band's set tonight before asking: "I don't know what you guys expect...shit?" He continues: "We're gonna pull out a few songs from our catalogue and some of these things, I wish I never wrote them because some people want to hear them but they're fucking difficult to play!" Despite their gigging break, expectations are most definitely not of shit. Far from rusty in their musical prowess as a well-oiled unit, it's evidently been a break well spent as the Swedes are amply rehearsed and in fine form...as always; shit is not a word that could ever be applied to an Opeth performance. Speculation was, however, rife whether they'd be touring with another 'Heritage'-biased, clean vocal set, such as when they last hit UK shores for a run of shows at the tail-end of 2011. Opener 'The Devil's Orchard' from the latest album keeps people guessing for a few minutes in Rock City this evening but Åkerfeldt's subsequent proclamation of pulling "out a few songs from our catalogue" whets the curiosity of all present. And, from thereon, the surprises are aplenty. 'Ghost of Perdition', 'White Cluster', 'Hope Leaves' and the rarely performed 'Burden' and 'Reverie/Harlequin Forest' delight the packed venue as Opeth deliver note-perfect renditions of said tracks. The frontman's humble statement of his compositions being "fucking difficult to play" can be witnessed by the concentration discernible on the man's face, glancing down at his fretboard a little more frequently than he might otherwise, and it's left to fellow axeman Fredrik Åkesson and bassist Martín Méndez to provide more of the visual dynamic to the band's overall performance. Perennial fan favourite 'Deliverance' also makes an appearance, as do 'Hessian Peel' and the debut live airing of 'Heritage' track 'Famine' with one of the biggest surprises saved for the encore, 'Blackwater Park'. Eschewing material from their first three albums, it's not quite the wet dream of an Opeth setlist as implied by Åkerfeldt's earlier comments but it's a nonetheless unpredictable one by a band who have built their career around musical unpredictability and innovatory songwriting. And judging by the reception they receive tonight, not one punter is left disappointed by what they hear. Rightly so, as Opeth are as sonically majestic as they've ever been, delivering their unique and genuinely progressive take on metal with flawless proficiency and affective flair. They even squeeze in a short burst of Napalm Death mid-set when Åkerfeldt says the last time they toured over here, they played the Brummies' two second classic 'You Suffer' (four times in actual fact, at the Birmingham Academy, coincidentally a year ago to the day) and asks if anyone wants to hear it again. Loud cheers fill Rock City and are rewarded with the track twice over. All in all, a hugely entertaining set, both musically and punctuated as it is by Åkerfeldt's monologic wit. Opeth at their finest.
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Opeth at Rock City in Nottingham, UK, 12th November 2012
Photograph copyright © 2012 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com