Download 2014: Opeth

Beautiful beastly stuff from the Swedish prog-metallers

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Hmm. Pensive, Scandinavian progressive metal was always likely to struggle against co-liners Avenged Sevenfold - playing, as they were, practically within beer-chucking space (OK, we exaggerate, but the Avenged thumping still felt pretty damn close).

And in that sense, Opeth were a little doomed from the start - certainly in terms of atmosphere, which inevitably lacks a little sparkly tension here. Nevertheless, for the fans, curious passers-by and the guy with a ferret draped round his neck watching, they affirm why one should never underestimate the wrath of five nerdy but quietly confident Swedish blokes.

With eleven studio albums (the latest, Pale Communion, due out in August) to choose from, charting their evolution from black metal youths to prog-tastic men, this Pepsi Max Stage headline set could veer in all manner of directions. Robust, ‘grrrrr-metal!’ chops? (This is Download after all). Atmospheric progressive swathes? Unplugged, even? (Hell, they’ve done it before, at London’s Union Chapel in 2012).

Well, to the delight of the smaller but rapturous crowd of Opeth-ites present, a fair proportion of older-school more death-growly choices from the Swedes’ catalogue take centre stage - in an album-hopping set, that shows just how much these guys have defined ‘progressive metal’ in the grand scheme of things. _The Devil’s Orcha_rd sets a menacingly other-worldly tone, all ambiance and coloured lights. Then the change: “I’m gonna hurt my voice for you guys,” singer/guitarist/mainman Mikael Akerfeldt then says, with a wry smile. “I’m doing it for YOU…and the money.” Accordingly, the likes of Demon Of The Fall move between layers of proggy, synth-led ethereal matter and beautiful-sounding, hard rocking axework. And down-down-deeper-and-down death metal.

Mikael is no ‘rawk king’, but he’s surprisingly witty tonight - albeit in a very geeky, self-aware sense, slipping a drop-D tuning gag for good measure (oh Mikael, you crazy kid…). And his propensity for veering between exquisite melodic vocals and straight-from-Hell death howls is continually engaging and impressive.

Not an ideal setting for them, but pretty darn scintillating nonetheless. (8) (PG)

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.