Morningrise in the Deadlands
Opeth, Madder Mortem and Kormoss at the Hard Club, Gaia, Portugal
by: Pedro Azevedo
It had been a lengthy spell away from the Hard Club for me (during several months of which the venue was closed, due to a row with the City Hall), but Opeth and Madder Mortem provided a superb reason for my return. Opeth is easily among my favourite bands, whereas Madder Mortem are, in my view, one of the most underrated bands around -- they are perhaps victims of being on Century Media, which is not a very fashionable label these days (how about that for an ironic turn of events?).

Local band Kormoss opened the gig in competent fashion, playing a brand of Samael-influenced metal and showing little evolution since I first saw them several years ago -- even if they did seem to lean a bit more towards death metal than the last time I heard them. Despite the fact that they were nothing out of the ordinary tonight, they still managed to entertain the audience reasonably well. Impatience, however, was impossible to disguise amidst the Opeth-hungry mob, and there were few who even bothered to try.

Madder Mortem were also affected by that impatience; or rather, it marred the audience's potential enjoyment of their set. In fact, even though their performance was excellent tonight, few people seemed to even begin to appreciate it. Granted, their material -- much like Opeth's, although in a smaller scale -- is very difficult to get into live if you don't already know it quite well; few in attendance seemed to be familiar with their albums. Madder Mortem played a combination of songs from their last two discs, _All Flesh Is Grass_ and _Deadlands_, both of which came out of virtually nowhere to greatly impress me when they were released. They opened with "Necropol Lit" off _Deadlands_, possibly the weakest song in a superb setlist, followed by the excellent "Rust Cleansing" -- the final part of that one blows me away every time. On to "Distance Will Save Us", another good track, and then the first song from _All Flesh Is Grass_: the massive "Breaker of Worlds". Another fine new song, "Faceless", was next, then the less profound but very contagious "Jigsaw (The Pattern and the Puzzle)", and a truly suitable ending: "Omnivore", which ends abruptly after an amazing crescendo.

The band was tight and benefited from a good sound setup, but there is no denying that their vocalist Agnette Kirkevaag was the centre of attention. She is definitely not your average female vocalist: she doesn't sport a goth look and doesn't stand still on stage pouring forth angelic vocals. Instead she moves all over the stage, thoroughly enjoying every riff, and takes the listener on a rollercoaster ride of amazing vocal twists and turns. She has -talent-, not just a sweet voice. I was already hugely impressed by her performance on disc, but my girlfriend and I had to exchange amazed looks at the sheer quality of her live performance. Quite a shame that so few of those in attendance were able to appreciate it.

Opeth was the band nearly everyone was there to see, and Opeth they got -- a whole lot of Opeth, in fact. Nine songs, which by their standards guarantees about an hour and a half of music. And although Madder Mortem had set a high standard, Opeth were not daunted by the challenge. They proceeded to flawlessly execute a collection of epics taken from the majority of their discography. They opened with the excellent "The Leper Affinity" from _Blackwater Park_, and it immediately became clear that the audience was in for a treat. The guitars were spot on, the drumming impeccable and dynamic, and the vocals -- both clean and harsh -- came out perfectly. Akerfeldt's stage presence was simultaneously enthusiastic and relaxed, and he never felt the need to amuse people with stage antics: it was the music that did the talking, and that's what everyone was there for.

"Advent" from _Morningrise_ was next, and what a rendition! That song has some magnificent moments, but they just seemed to carry a much greater impact live. I am in awe of how Mikael Akerfeldt manages to deliver such a performance on vocals and guitar simultaneously. "Deliverance" from their new album was next, its distinctive ending played with machine-like precision. Another cut from the atmospheric _Blackwater Park_ then followed, and another fine song too, namely "The Drapery Falls". Pure bliss. "Godhead's Lament" from _Still Life_ was a more questionable choice for the set, but I won't complain. It then gave way to the acoustic "Credence" off _My Arms, Your Hearse_, which came as a surprisingly welcome break to the more intense material. Just like his intense demonic vocals and growls, Akerfeldt continued to pull off his clean singing with great aplomb, while the remaining musicians continuously showed their remarkable skill as well.

Opeth then entered the final stretch of songs, starting with "Bleak" from _Blackwater Park_ (with its marvelously doomy beginning and end), followed by "A Fair Judgement" from _Deliverance_. Then finally, as an encore, the monstrous "Demon of the Fall", their classic from _My Arms, Your Hearse_ (from which "April Ethereal" was sorely missing). "Demon of the Fall" ended proceedings more than appropriately, with its irresistibly powerful first half and mellow ending. All in all, an amazing performance from Opeth, and one of the best gigs I've ever attended.

(article submitted 21/3/2003)

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