Opeth/Enslaved – Belfast, Limelight 1 – 17 November 2017 Print
Written by Mark Ashby and Marc Leach   
Thursday, 23 November 2017 04:40

It was always going to be an epic night, in every possible way. The first ever visit to this corner of the Uber Kingdom by the mighty Opeth, accompanied by label mates Enslaved, the latter enjoying an upgrade from their previous foray back on St Patrick’s Day 2013, was an appetizing prospect which had been drooled over my many aficionados since it was announced, so much so that the ‘SOLD OUT’ sign is blowing in the breeze that whips down the street outside the venue.

 

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Only one song from Enslaved’s 2013 setlist, ‘Roots Of The Mountain’ survives this evening – well, they do have a new album to promote – reminding us that they have continued to push past the parameters of the black metal genre by stepping outside its often constricting boundaries and bringing imagination and intrigue to the mix. As captivating as they are on record, however, they are even more so live, fluidly moving from elegance to brutality, and back again, with graceful ease.

 

Opener ‘Storm Son’ sets the mood immediately, building layers of atmospherics which are big and dense in their darkness, and then punctuating them with spears of even denser morbidity. There are not many bands – well, certainly not outside the prog sphere, to which Enslaved also dip a respectful nod – could get away with an 11-minute song, but it again proof that the Norwegians live by their own rules. As the speed and the intensity both build to positively ceiling-rattling levels, you can feel the huge driving sound created by Grutle Kjellson and Cato Bekkevold pummelling its way into your very soul. The result is big thick layers of light and shade, with the emphasis on the latter, delivered with technical precision.

 

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Kjellson self-deprecatingly jokes about the length of the band’s songs as he introduces ‘The River’s Mouth’ – “it’s only five and a half minutes” – before the sense of epicness is restored with the magnificent ‘One Thousand Years Of Rain’ and the titanic ‘Sacred Horse’. Five songs may seem a somewhat paltry contribution to some, but when you consider that they are compacted into a little more than 45 minutes, you realize just how much Enslaved are stretching and blurring the lines of the genre from which they have emerged.

 

Talking of blurring boundaries, this is something Opeth have been doing masterfully for more than a decade now, moving slowly away from their death metal origins to a stage where they are now mentioned in reverence in the same breaths as some of the true giants of the prog world.

 

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The Swedish maestros take their time building the atmosphere through the opening track of their latest opus magnus (sic), ‘Sorceress’, not rushing into things but rather letter the music flow and find, and take, its own course. At the same time, they make the complicated time changes seem simple, as the songs swirl and dance around the room, aided by a nigh on perfect soundmix (the only downside in this regards is the fact that Mikael Åkerfeldt between song soliloquies are virtually inaudible, especially the further you move from the stage).

 

Nevertheless, it is the music that matters, and it is a majestic mixture of textures and tones: when they get heavy, they hit with the ferocity of a tidal wave, but when they ease back it is like collapsing into the warm embrace of a new feather pillow.

 

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Over the set’s ten songs, and guts of two hours’ duration, it is an entrancing performance, which can best be summarized as nigh on perfection. Not a fault can be detected, it’s that flawless and, despite the length of the majority of the songs, there is not one hint at wanting to look away or find distraction elsewhere (hell, even dashes to the bar and the bogs are suspended until those troublesome spoken interjections).

 

I had waited a long time to catch Opeth live, and see songs like ‘Blackwater Park’ reproduced on stage: they are interpreted so well that, close your eyes and fade out the inevitable background chitchat that you get a gigs, and you could almost be listening to it on your home stereo. If you want the definition of musical magnificence, just look under ‘Opeth’. Or, better still, familiarize yourself with their genre-defying back catalogue.

 

PHOTO CREDIT: All photographs © Marc Leach/ Über Rock. You can view our full gallery of photographs HERE.

 

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