‘It’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November Rain’ sang Axl Rose on arguably the best song Guns N’ Roses ever did, but whilst his words from 1991 are more poetically inclined, it’s certainly true in Bristol tonight with winter doing its best to make everything as miserable as possible. Sadly, when a gig is involved, there’s only one winner and, mercifully, the O2 Academy is warm enough to get everyone dry and ready for the best that progressive death metal has to offer.
‘This is the best show we’ve ever played in Bristol!’ shouts Enslaved (7) frontman Grutle Kjellson. ‘It’s only the SECOND show we’ve ever played in Bristol, but that last one was ridiculous enough!’ It’s clear that Kjellson is enjoying himself, which is definitely a plus because his band take quite a while to get into the swing of things. In their defence, they aren’t helped by the small stage space that results in Cato Bekkevold’s drumkit being WAY too close to the front of the stage and upsets the instrumental balance, nor that the clean vocals are extremely low in the mix for the first two songs, but it’s certainly not the best of early impressions. The River’s Mouth, on of three songs played from latest album E, is the first indication of what Enslaved can do when on form, sounding absolutely massive and setting the tone for the rest of their set which is one to appreciate, absorb and simultaneously bang your head in time with 1,600 other people. Despite the false start, Enslaved have done enough to walk away happy, even engaging in light banter around whether the audience were City or Rovers fans (the answer? ‘Fuck sports, let’s play rock!).
It’s one thing to divide a crowd by football though; it’s another to start a rivalry between two completely separate cities. No sooner has Mikael Åkerfeldt mentioned that Opeth (9) are playing in Birmingham the following night, he’s met with a resounding chorus of boos that take him completely by surprise; naturally, this makes it even funnier when the band perform an acoustic cover of Napalm Death’s You Suffer mid-set who, of course, are from the Venice of the North themselves. Away from this brief diversion, they take the Academy on a tour of their career, with only 2016’s Sorceress lending multiple songs to the set in the form of the title track and The Wilde Flowers. They garner a good reception too, which is always a good thing given the mixed reaction to Opeth’s output from 2011’s Heritage onwards. That said, it’s the ‘classics’ which are welcomed most fondly: Ghost of Perdition is a crushing song anyway, but live it’s even more ferocious and the reaction to it is nothing short of deafening. Elsewhere, centrepiece Windowpane is coupled with the pinnacle of the substantial light show that Opeth have packed into the venue tonight and proves beyond all doubt that the ‘Swedes from Sweden’ as Åkerfeldt describes them are the closest thing this world will get to a heavy metal Pink Floyd, whilst a closing double salvo of Blackwater Park and the brilliant Deliverance ensure that everyone heads out into the wind and the rain with massive smiles. Sometimes, the only word that comes close to describing a set is ‘majestic’, and Opeth are most befitting of that adjective this evening.
Ghost of Perdition
Demon of the Fall
The Wilde Flowers
Häxprocess (Napalm Death cover, acoustic)
Moon Above, Sun Below