If you were one of the projected 18,000 fans who bought Opeth’s new album, ‘Heritage’ (read my review here) last week, then their concert last night at the Newport Music Hall should not have surprised you too much. Although ‘Heritage’ is a brilliant work of art, a fairly large portion of Opeth’s fan base was undoubtedly disappointed that the album didn’t include any of the death metal elements that have been so prevalent in their previous albums (with the exception of the very mellow ‘Damnation’ album released in 2003). The concert was an extension of the new album: not only did the band play five songs from ‘Heritage,’ the rest of the setlist was comprised of songs from the more mellow side of the band’s catalog.
Fellow Swedes—and longtime friends of Opeth—Katatonia warmed the audience up, playing almost an hour of doomy yet melodic metal. Based on the number of Katatonia shirts in the audience, it’s safe to assume there were already a lot of fans at the show, but I have no doubt their fan base has grown here in Columbus since last night.
Half an hour later, Opeth took the stage to thunderous applause, and launched into “The Devil’s Orchard,” the first single off their brand new album. The song flat-out rocked and sounded heavier than it does on the album. Indeed, this was one of the best-sounding shows I’ve ever heard in the Newport. Opeth’s sound system was top-notch. I’m wondering if Opeth has been playing bigger venues in other cities because they had a lot of stuff on stage, from the huge spotlights more suitable for Nationwide Arena to the way-too-big-for-the-Newport tapestry behind the band, depicting the ‘Heritage’ album cover.
“I Feel the Dark,” also from the new album, was next, and then the band dug deep into the vaults, pulling out “Face of Melinda” from 1999’s ‘Still Life’ album. Overall, it’s a mellow song, but when Opeth tore into the track’s heavy part, a surprisingly large and exuberant mosh pit broke out, and the slam dancing continued into next song, “Porcelain Heart,” from Opeth’s previous album, ‘Watershed.’ The latter song also featured a dazzling albeit brief drum solo courtesy of Martin Axenrot.
After the fifth song in the set, the very jazzy “Nepenthe” (also from the new album), guitarists Mikael Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson traded their electric guitars for acoustics, sat down on folding chairs and led the band through a four-song “unplugged” set. Åkerfeldt joked that he wanted to sit on a stool but he was afraid he’d look too much like Jon Bon Jovi. He then teased the audience with a snippet of Bon Jovi’s seminal “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which prompted chuckles from the crowd.
Myself, I’m not sure I would’ve chosen an obscure song to start this part of the show with, but Opeth did just that. Åkerfeldt did preface the song, called “The Throat of Winter,” by saying the tune was written for a videogame—‘God of War III’ to be precise—and that it was “very odd.” It was very good too, reminding me a little of Zeppelin’s third album.
After the acoustic set, which also included the classics “Credence,” “Patterns in the Ivy II” (only available on the deluxe edition of 2001’s ‘Blackwater Park’) and “Closure,” Åkerfeldt and Åkesson plugged back in and ripped into a blistering rendition of “Slither,” arguably the fastest, most up-tempo song from the new album. The band received almost overwhelming applause when Åkerfeldt explained that the song is a tribute to the late, great Ronnie James Dio, and he shared a humorous story about hanging out with the legend some years ago.
“A Fair Judgement” and “Hex Omega” followed, and then the band walked off stage, though they returned shortly for the encore “Folklore.” The concert was probably not what many people expected, but it was still a concert not to be missed. This was only my third time seeing Opeth, but I’d wager a lot of money that most of the songs in the setlist have rarely been performed live, if ever. It was an absolute pleasure to watch a band this good perform, too. The level of musicianship these guys possess is staggering.
The Devil’s Orchard
I Feel the Dark
Face of Melinda
The Throat of Winter
Patterns in the Ivy II
A Fair Judgement