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Metal/Prog Metal DVD/Video Reviews

Opeth

Lamentations DVD

Review by Mike Korn

There really is nobody quite like Opeth in the musical world today. Defying every expected convention, they are as truly free in their musical explorations as the most magnificent bird of prey. For confirmation, one need only watch "Lamentations", the new DVD from the Swedish non-conformists.

Although not exactly showcasing a household name, "Lamentations" is top notch in every regard. In terms of camera work, lighting and art direction, this is equal to anything being done by any rock group, anywhere. Many DVD's from "underground" metal bands focus on jarring camera work, cheap parlor tricks and endless streams of profanity and half-wit "420" jokes - not this one. This is a serious performance, delivered by serious musicians, with no heavy-handed egomania and juvenile shrieking. Opeth let their music do the talking and for the most part, it's an eloquent speech indeed.

For a band that cut their teeth on very heavy metal approaching death metal, they show no signs of relying on it exclusively. Their recent studio CD "Damnation" focused on their moodier, most melodic material, often conjuring up echoes of Pink Floyd and the Doors as well as traditional folk music. "Lamentations" is a meticulous record of a show Opeth played in 2003 at the Shepherd's Bush Empire in England. The venue is a lovely building that is not too large but also not too clubby...it's an elegant building that probably caters to classical and pop. The concert came in two parts, both of which are portrayed here. The first set focuses on Opeth's mellower moments, mostly from "Damnation", with the second turning up the heat and featuring their more typical epic heavy metal numbers.

The first set is not metal in the slightest but possesses enough dark atmosphere to appeal to the open minded. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt demonstrates his soft touch on these numbers... amazing when you hear his pulverizing death growl during the second set. Fan favorite "Windowpane" starts things off. The stage is subtly but brilliantly lit in muted shades of green and purple...no pyro or lasers here. The direction is also pleasingly easy going, with some great close-ups and angles and no fast cuts. I have to say that I'm not a huge fan of a lot of acoustic, laid-back stuff, but tracks like "Death Whispered a Lullaby" and "Harvest" are just great songs, not merely great mellow songs. Some tunes like "Weakness" and "Hope Leaves" are so gentle and subdued they are like wisps of fog. They are virtual showcases for Akerfeldt's solo talents. But others like "Ending Credits" and the superb "Closure" are more substantial and bring the whole band's talents into play. "Closure" in particular builds to a powerful climax with its Middle Eastern feel.

The second set is the more familiar "heavy" Opeth material, but even this is not the usual brain bludgeoning death metal. Rather, it's highly progressive and lengthy songs that have many peaks and valleys in them. "Master's Apprentices" sets out a foundation of a headbanging, crunchy riff but then deviates into other areas. "Deliverance" begins with hammering, jagged chords slamming into the listener and once again venturing into a more unpredictable space. The interplay between these musicians is phenomenal...only the best bands have such an instinctive touch. Kudos should go to guest keyboardist Per Wiberg, who really emerges as a fifth member of Opeth during this show.

The direction changes during the heavier parts, becoming faster paced and more animated, though thankfully not MTV-grade choppy. The crowd becomes more raucous and so does the band, though Akerfeldt never comes across as anything less than intimate. What a great vocalist he is...his articulate death growls should be the model for everyone attempting this style. The DVD proper ends with a lengthy version of "A Fair Judgement"...a tune that combines death metal, progressive rock and poppy folk all in one package. It's a fitting closer for a very special show. The DVD also features a documentary on the making of the last two Opeth studio CD's, "Deliverance" and "Damnation", and what a trial that process was. Akerfeldt admits the band almost came to an end due to the endless problems and frustrations of recording the CD's, mostly due to a poor recording facility. It's an unprecedented look into the trials and tribulations of the creative process that is Opeth. Once again, the members of the band come across as real guys who are sincerely concerned with the music they create. If you are looking for sleazy tales of drugs and groupies here, go pick up a Motley Crue album. These guys are real musicians and that comes through pretty much in every minute of "Lamentations".

For my own tastes, there was too much mellow stuff here to totally keep my interest, but I was never less than impressed by the professionalism and talent not only of Opeth, but every one associated with "Lamentations". This DVD is recommended to far more than metal fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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