Opeth @ The Palace (Melbourne), 25 Nov 2009

A resplendent night of awe-inspiring metal and music from the genre's flagship group.

Walking up to the Palace Theatre, the line extended up the street and around the corner. Melbourne looked as if it were under siege from an invasion of black-clad headbangers. Making our way into the palatial, ornate walls befitting the name, the Victorian era met the debauched metal present, metalheads slowly devouring the merchandise tables and the beers despite the price. Opeth are one of the few metal bands that unify the disparate metal factions - prog-heads, thrashers, death metal moshers - they were all in attendance, eagerly awaiting a thrilling performance from one of heavy metal's undisputed kings.

The opener was Contrive, a power-trio who are "powered" by Andrew Haug on drums, host of Triple J's Full Metal Racket - pretty much the highest seat in the land in terms of metal journalism in Australia - played fuzzy, Sepultura influenced thrash had a few fans swaying to their rhythm, but most were bucking for excitement for Opeth. They also played some ill-concieved Alice in Chains inspired "ballads" that featured some leaden bass lines; but apart from some interesting moments, the crowd just didn't share the same enthusiasm as the Haug brothers playing their set. As Contrive's set wore on, the crowd became restless, shouting for Opeth to magically appear, as futile as their attempts were.

Tension was building in the Palace as the capacity was being stretched to the limit. Enraptured from the start, the crowd roared in delight as guitarist/vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt took pride of place at the center of stage, crooning through Windowpane. The moshing began during Ghost of Perdition, a light show that reflected the soul and power in their near-flawless performances, although everything was high up in the mix, the keyboards sometimes overpowered the rest of the band - a minor gripe. Mikael's sense of humor returned this time around, introducing the "hook" (a finger curved to make a hook) as the new metal sign. He said, "In 150 years...people still won't know what we're talking about." He even did some poses for the crowd for "dudes who wanted to take pictures on cell phones", his banter having the crowd in stitches.

Exploding into the Leper Affinity, it was like a crowd posessed as they chanted and raised their horns together as one. Easily a crowd favorite, the My Arms, Your Hearse cut April Ethereal was the most impressive of the night. A calm yet forceful energy rose from the crowd like a smoke, the haunting strains of Face of Melinda stunned the crowd, trapped in a fleeting moment of metallic ecstacy.

Playing a few more tracks, they departed only to return for one of the best encores I've seen in a long time - first Per Wiberg laid down a rare keyboard solo in which Mikael was prompted for one - he insisted "I don't do solos." So Fredrik Akesson stepped up to melt our faces instead before Mikael played "guess the riff." (It was Whitesnake, by the way.) Blasting us with a solid performance of Deliverance, it was time for Opeth to depart our shores for a "34 hour flight" - and I'm sure some of the fans would make the same journey to see them too. As we left the scene, everyone had a smile on their face - satisfied beyond comprehension, a show to be long remembered.