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Opeth Lamentations -- Live at the Shepeard's Bush in London DVD

By Brian Davis, Contributor
Monday, March 1, 2004 @ 1:32 AM

(Koch Entertainment)

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The wait is finally over. In a time when bands that don’t even have a record label have their own DVD, the multitude of Opeth fans have been looking at the band’s impressive back catalogue of 7 incredible albums and scratching their heads, wondering when the hell we were going to finally get our grubby hands on some visual wonderment.

That moment is here and the material makes the wait more than worthwhile. With nearly 3 ½ hrs of concert and documentary footage, there is enough here to sate the appetites of even the most voracious Opeth fans. The live footage consists of a special concert recorded in its entirety at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London. Amongst the live content is the Damnation set, which presents every song from the album played in succession, with “Harvest,” the ballad from Blackwater Park, thrown in for good measure. Following the Damnation set and a short break, the band returns and delivers a mind-numbing set of their more familiar “harder” material. Wrapping up the DVD is a 50+ minute documentary on the making of Damnation and Deliverance. This DVD is absolutely packed with Opethian gems, providing some ideal examples of the brilliance that is their music, as well as some ample insight into the inner workings of this unique band.

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If you weren’t fortunate enough to take advantage of the only opportunity to see the fully toned down, mellow side of Opeth in a live setting, have no fear -- the Damnation live footage more than adequately conveys the sorrowful beauty the band creates in their shows. While the music is tight from start to finish, there are subtle hints in the opener “Windowpane” that Mikael was struggling ever so slightly with his voice, but he quickly tightens it up and from that point on his delivery is as entrancing as the music itself. The entire set is every bit as good as you would expect from musicians of this caliber, and the band is particularly enthralling in the songs “In My Time Of Need” and “To Rid The Disease,” proving that the two best songs from the Damnation album are even better live. On board specifically for this tour, Opeth are joined by Spiritual Beggars keyboardist Per Wiberg, who proficiently translates the moody atmosphere created on the album into tangible emotion in the live setting.

Having had the opportunity to see this tour first hand, I must honestly say that I am somewhat disappointed with the inclusion of “Harvest” (in my opinion the band’s weakest song) on this DVD. When I saw this tour they played the far more appropriate ballads “Benighted,” “Face Of Melinda” and “To Bid You Farewell” -- 3 songs which are a true rarity for the live setting. In fact, this was the first tour the band had ever played “To Bid You Farewell” and in being such a special occasion, I had thought it would be included with the DVD, but alas it’s nowhere to be seen. No matter, there is more than enough material here to satisfy.

When the band wraps up the Damnation set with “Weakness,” they cut for a break then return with death metal on the mind, and the show really picks up the pace. The heavy set is by far the superior set -- Damnation is an amazing album, but Opeth is a death metal band, and death metal is what they do best. Perhaps the single greatest highlight of the entire live footage is the presence of “Master’s Apprentices,” one of the heaviest songs on the highly acclaimed Deliverance album, and a song that, to my knowledge, had never been played live up to this point. A supremely heavy tune with abundant changes, brutally driving riffs and tempos and a great mixture of acoustic and melodic moments, the band pulls it off flawlessly and gives it an extra edge with a level of intensity that can only be attained in front of a writhing swarm of rabid fans. Also highlighting the heavy set is a brutalizing presentation of the title track from Deliverance. When you see the crowd’s reactions, it’s more than evident that though the Damnation set was an amazing treat, this is what they had really come for. Few death metal bands out there can match the intensity and power of Opeth when they take over a stage, and after seeing this there can be no doubt that every single fan in attendance left that show with a lingering smile on their faces that was on permanent display for days to come.

The documentary section is equally entertaining, composed entirely of interviews and footage filmed during the recording sessions for Deliverance and Damnation. Interspersed with clips of the members laying down their parts for both albums and the various processes involved in writing and recording, Opeth fans are given a rare behind the scenes look at the stages by which the band’s music takes life and blooms. Throughout this footage (which is layered smartly together to correlate with relevant in-studio recordings) are clips of one-on-one interviews with the four members of Opeth. I was impressed to see that all members were given ample attention as opposed to all the focus being on Mikael Akerfeldt. The viewer is given great information concerning each member’s musical background, their approach, and how they affect Opeth’s unique sound.

The prevalent theme of the documentary revolves around the endless troubles and complications that plagued the band during the initial recording sessions for the heavy aspects of the Deliverance album. A seemingly endless haze of setbacks, the plague of problems ranges from the constant conflicts with a shifty, scheming producer to an endless array of malfunctioning equipment. Each member relates personal experiences that convey just a small fraction of the bullshit they had to endure during the first stages of recording, with lead singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt claiming, “There is no way to explain just how bad it was. You just had to be there. There was a time when we actually thought the band was finished” and guitarist Peter Lindgren adding that, “All the joy of being in a band was gone.”

Fortunately they were relieved of that fate, courtesy of famed Swedish producer Fredrik Nordstrom and Porcupine Tree guitarist/singer/producer Steven Wilson. Fredrik Nordstrom allowed the band to use his impressive facilities, which unlike the previous hell of a studio, was set up with the proper equipment to facilitate Steven Wilson’s requirements for producing Damnation and the melodic elements of Deliverance. The viewer is then given an in depth look at the collaboration between the band and Steven Wilson and the significant role he played in the creation of these albums, as well as why there is such a connection between them. According to Steven Wilson, “Opeth has a degree of musicality and sophistication which has nothing to do with metal and has a lot more in common with the kind of music I make. I’m not saying it’s better, but there’s more of a commonality with the way they work and the way I would work anyway.”

Other subjects broached during the interviews include Mikael addressing why the band evolved into the unique style they present, claiming that, “[ I ] got tired of that style after Morningrise. Everyone, especially in Sweden, was playing it. It got to the point where to this day I hear certain parts of Morningrise and I can’t stand it!” The footage also conveys the tight-knit professional relationship between the members and the amount of input the other members have in the composition of the music. Mikael stresses that he is, “always interested in hearing ideas or changes from the other members,” and drummer Martin Lopez comments, “In Opeth you have freedom to do what you want. When Mike writes music, you never know where he’s going. But after 7 years you start knowing, ‘If we think it’s going this way then Mike is going to go that way.’”

Bottom line is, this DVD has just about everything you could ever want in an Opeth DVD -- the beautiful, melodic songs; the crushing and brutal masterpieces; a first hand look at how the band works in the studio and plenty of insightful information and history about the members and the evolution of the band. If you are in the unfortunate position of having never heard Opeth, then there is no better way to initiate yourself in this unique world of music than with the Lamentations DVD. And if you are familiar with the band then you will be, as always, more than satisfied with the quality and amount of material provided in the band’s latest release. Without a doubt, this DVD qualifies as a worthy tie with Overkill’s Wrecking Everything as the most comprehensive and entertaining metal DVD yet to be released.

And to top it all off, Mikael’s signature offbeat Swedish humor provides us with what has to be one of the most memorable quotes of the year. When discussing the uncanny connection between Opeth and Steven Wilson and his ability to comprehend the nuances the band is trying to capture, Mikael deadpans the following priceless quote: “It’s almost like… I can imagine what The Beatles had with George Martin, especially when they’re tripping on acid saying something like, ‘I want the vocals to sound like I’m inside an orange.’ You know, totally fucked up stuff like that.” Eloquent in an odd sort of way, don’t ya think?

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