December 1, 2007

CD Review: Opeth - The Roundhouse Tapes

Over my relatively few years of review writing, I have found it near impossible to listen (or watch) all that I want to, much less write about any of it to the degree of expertise that I would like to. To that end, I have more or less resigned myself to being one of those guys that tries to listen to a little of a lot of different stuff. Unfortunately, this choice does not lend me to being an expert on any one particular genre, style, band, etcetera. Rather than try to be an expert I have chosen to be content to bring my point of view, based on the breadth of experience I do have, to each of my columns. This brings me to the case of Opeth's latest release, the live two CD set of The Roundhouse Tapes. By now I am sure you are probably a little worried about the direction this is headed. I am too. It's okay to be worried, and maybe even a little afraid. It is even okay of you decide to use my lack of specific genre experience as an excuse to discount my opinion. No problem. My opinion can take it.

Opeth is one of those bands that I have seen mentioned time and time again on forum postings of favorite bands and best bands ever and the like. It took me a long time to actually get around to sampling them, and I have to say that, initially, I was not terribly impressed. The album was Blackwater Park. Over the intervening years, my opinion has greatly changed and I think the album is great. It also stands as the only album I own and the only Opeth I have listened to, despite actually wanting to pick up some more. This goes back to my lack of time and desire to listen to a variety of bands.

My lack of Opeth experience seems to make listening to a live album something of an odd choice. However, I took my ears and embarked on an excursion into Opeth's live realm and survived. The Roundhouse Tapes spans nine songs in about one hour and forty minutes. The experience is eye opening for the uninitiated. I can only imagine what actually seeing them live would be like.

Hearing the songs performed live was like hearing them for the first time, and in many cases it actually was the first time. There is something transcendent and hypnotic about their music. I found myself being lulled into a special place where I did not really focus on the music; rather I let the music in and just let the notes wash over me. The experience of just listening with no specific focus is amazing; I recommend that you try it. Put on some headphones, turn out the lights, press play, and just sit there. Just let Mikael Akerfeldt's voice enter, allow the guitars breach your ears and dig into your mind. Simply put, this is a performance of unmatched skill.

Now, neither Opeth nor this album have convinced me they are the greatest band in the world, or even at the moment, but there is absolutely no denying their skillful songwriting and instrument mastery. There is a beautiful balance between the soft and beautiful, and the guttural and brutal. In their song structures and lengthy excursions, one could favorably compare them to Pink Floyd.

The set spans their entire career from Orchid ("Under the Weeping Moon") through Ghost Reveries ("Ghosts of Perdition"), unlike their last live album, 2006's Lamentations, which focused primarily on their then latest studio release, Damnation. The set list has been criticized by some fans who disagree with their song choices. I cannot take any such line with them, for one thing most of the songs are new to me and secondly if the set were everyone's favorites it would not make for much excitement live when you are wondering what may be next. Besides, I always wondered if bands got tired of playing the same songs at every show, it is nice to hear the songs that are not often played live.

Bottomline. What else can be said? The Roundhouse Tapes is an exquisite live album capturing near perfect performances from all involved. Even for those who, like me, are not terribly familiar with their music, this is a good place to catch up with them, simultaneously experiencing a searing live performance and getting an overview of their career. There really is no way to go wrong with this, unless you have something against great music, that is.

Highly Recommended.


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