It's hard to put this gig into words. For a big Opeth fan this night has been on the horizon for far too long, and now it finally arrives. The chance to see the greatest metal band the world has ever seen, or will ever see, in the magnificent surroundings of the Royal Albert Hall, one of the most prestigious classical music venues in the entire world. This is also a room that has played host to some of rock's most notable alumni; Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Camel and more recently the likes of Muse have all graced this venue with their presence. However, as Mikael Akerfeldt emphasises, nothing quite like Opeth has been heard here. This is a first for the venue as death growls, blast beasts and the word "c*nt" all make their Royal Albert Hall debut; the latter Mikael just couldn't resist incorporating into some mid set banter. This is not just a momentous occasion in the history of this illustrious venue (whether it knows it yet or not) but also for the band itself, celebrating 20 years of creating some of the most awe inspiring, sublime music known to man. This show is also being filmed for a future CD/DVD release and features something anyone who truly appreciates incredible music will find a salivating prospect: the landmark 'Blackwater Park' album, in full, followed by a further song from each of Opeth's albums. This is also a room with the best possible acoustics meaning that every song can be heard as perfectly as it was meant to be. And yet some people wonder why I've been so momentously excited about this since it was announced in late November...philstines!
Promptly, at 7.30pm, the lights dim and the backdrop screen lights up with the artwork from the newly reissued album that is about to be unleashed fully live for only the fourth time in history (previous concerts in Stockholm, Essen and Paris have led up to this London date). As the chilling soundscapes that begin 'The Leper Affinity' echo out five men appear on stage and proceed to rip into the earth shuddering grooves that Opeth are famous for. The first set whizzes by in what seems like about ten minutes. There is no banter from Akerfeldt here, instead preferring to see the album performance as something that should flow perfectly with no distractions. The crowd are near silent in awe, realising they are witnessing something they will never witness again. Every song from the album is absolutely kickass live. Even 'The Funeral Portrait', which I have to confess drags occasionally on record, is perfect in a live environment. By the time the title track has concluded the first set there's already been more than enough brilliance to satisfy but, and this is the best bit, we're not even halfway through the evening yet.
After a 20 minute interval Opeth return to blast out over 90 minutes more of perfect prog metal. 'Forest of October' from the first record 'Orchid' kicks things off (a song which I think I am correct in saying has never been played live before this tour). This is followed by song after song balancing the darkness and light, the brutally heavy and the soothingly melodic. 'The Moor' is perhaps the highlight of the evening, a complex monster that is if possible even better live than on the 'Still Life' album it opens. After a performance of 'Wreath' heavy enough to flatten most major cities comes the tranquil acoustics of 'Hope Leaves' and then something akin to the ultimate concert ending double header, 'Harlequin Forest' and 'The Lotus Eater'. Preceding each of the second set songs is some, typically hilarious, Mikael Akerfeldt bant that ranges in theme from his friendship with Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson to the stories behind each album. 'The Lotus Eater' is a wonderful end to the show even with a mega pause in the middle of the song in which lead guitarist Fredrik Akesson's pedal system lets him down. The band merely picks up where they left off, as if nothing had happened (that bit might be edited out of the DVD though I suspect!). It doesn't even seem like a blemish on the performance of this behemoth of a band. This is a performance that comes around too rarely, perfect in every fashion. The best gig I've ever seen, possibly will ever see. What more than that is needed to sum up?
Opeth - 11/10 (because, as Spinal Tap told us, metal goes up to 11)
The Leper Affinity
The Drapery Falls
Dirge for November
The Funeral Portrait
Patterns in the Ivy
Forest of October
The Lotus Eater