Between the longest and shortest metal song, it once again shows that Opeth is no ordinary metal band

It has been buzzing on social media and forums over the past few weeks: would they really play it? Also before the first of two concerts by Opeth in TivoliVredenburg on Saturday evening, you could hear the three words of that one legendary song from 1996 that they never performed live whispering in the halls, like a secret password: ‘Black Rose Immortal’… They played it earlier this tour already, someone knew. Vague photos of the set list were sent around in disbelief, jerky videos seemed to confirm it. Seriously, Opeth would probably play it tonight too.

We were not disappointed. For the first time in the Netherlands they played it, in its entirety. Swedish metal band Opeth is no ordinary metal band, and ‘Black Rose Immortal’ is no ordinary song: over twenty minutes long, a terribly beautiful, colorful epic that moves from classic heavy metal to fast, gritty passages and flows into luscious acoustic parts. “I may be pretentious now,” said the always joking frontman Mikael Akerfeldt, “but even more so when I was nineteen. I thought ten-minute songs were lame, so we wrote this one.”

A party

That they played it was therefore special, but it was especially a celebration how well they played it. Opeth hadn’t played this energetically and with so much fun in years. The last few shows in the Netherlands that I saw of them, in this room in 2019 and at Fortarock a year earlier, there was a business-playing band. Now that they are on tour with a relatively large number of old heavy songs – chosen by fans – to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary (32, thanks to corona), there was a fear that it would become a lot of musts. After all, since 2011 Akerfeldt transformed his band into a prog rock act and almost completely left metal (including death rattle) behind.

But nothing to do. What a love Akerfeldt and co showed for the old material, which blended perfectly into the new work. The timid ‘Burden’ (2008), for example, fitted in seamlessly with ‘Black Rose Immortal’ (a challenge for the die-hards who had already been trying to hold up a phone for 20 minutes). But it was also in a warm-blooded ‘The Moor’; a fiery ‘Ghost of Perdition’; a compelling ‘Allting tar Slut’; a dynamic ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ – Opeth strung those three decades together, with the band’s genius shining like a bright light from the music thanks to a band in top form.

Read also an interview with singer Mikael Akerfeldt: ‘The Swedish heritage is interwoven in us’

Dexterously, bassist Martin Mendez played the most wonderful runs in an emphatic presence. New drummer Waltteri Väyrynen had less swing in his playing than his predecessor, but turned out to be able to put a lot of small fills in the quiet ‘Harvest’. The mighty occluding track, the brilliantly syncopated ‘Deliverance’ also seemed deceptively easy to him. Keyboardist Joakim Svalberg and guitarist Fredrik Akesson occasionally provided three-part opulence with Akerfeldt, while his roaring voice became fuller and more venomous throughout the concert: towards the end he bit and chewed on the words, spat them out like balls of fire. Their fun even culminated in a bonus track: a cover of Napalm Death’s ‘You Suffer‘ – at barely 3 seconds, perhaps the shortest metal song ever.

The draft that seemed in it over the past few years has been shaken off: Opeth can take it again for thirty.

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