Warming up the sold-out crowd ever so gently, French shoegazers Alcest suffer from a poor sound mix tonight that smothers singer Neige’s voice under the effects-heavy guitars. They’re not a band that grab your attention, preferring jangly melodies to metal riffs, and their set suffers from a lack of dynamics and too many slow songs. Still, they have pockets of fans in the crowd to cheer them on.
Opeth, by contrast, are welcomed to the stage like conquering heroes as they jump straight into the magnificent Eternal Rains Will Come from new album Pale Communion. Cusp Of Eternity follows, and the crowd, completely unbidden, sing the harmonies in the choruses. They only visit Pale Communion once more tonight, midway through the set. For the rest of the evening, they delve into their back catalogue, which allows them to express the death metal side of their repertoire alongside their more recent progressive explorations. Bleak, from 2001’s Blackwater Park, is the first song to see Mikael Åkerfeldt unleash his growled vocals, while The Moor from 1999 really showcases the band’s considerable sonic range as it builds from a whisper to a roar. Åkerfeldt makes for a genial host with a stream of convivial patter between tracks. He’s happy to share that he’s trying to give up smoking and that the band are a bit nervous because of the new songs included in the set tonight: “Don’t laugh if I fuck up. You’re not going to get a refund if you think it’s shit,” he says before they tackle Elysian Woes – faultlessly. When Åkerfeldt announces: “I’ve been sitting in front of the telly for a year,” it’s clear this is not the bravado and machismo of your typical rock frontman, but the crowd lap it up, disarmed by the singer’s refreshing unpretentiousness. The audience cover a much broader spectrum than your average prog gig. There are plenty of 20-something metalheads, and more women than most prog bands see in a lifetime of concerts, suggesting that Opeth’s increasingly strong embrace of their progressive instincts hasn’t alienated certain factions of their fanbase. In fact, there’s plenty on offer to satiate any metal diehard’s appetite, with the epic riffs of Advent, April Ethereal – introduced by Åkerfeldt as “a bit black metally” – and the brilliant and brutal The Lotus Eater. The Grand Conjuration wraps up the main set with a dose of jazzy doom, before the band close the night with the multifaceted Deliverance. The Swedes’ healthy disregard for the limits of genre and the niceties of convention is admirable in a world that loves to pigeonhole artists. Tonight’s performance is a masterclass in both style and substance.