Saturday, November 15, 2008

Opeth - The Roundhouse Tapes DVD

The passing of time is an odd thing. Ticking silently perched in the background or roiling noisily in clear sight, it’s a thing too easily forgotten about. In fact, to forget is natural, for time remains the dark side of the mind, cast in shadows of forgetting and indifference, passed over in the quotidian slipstream. Why count the seconds, why have time’s digestible chunks at the forefront of the mind? You wouldn’t – a canvas it is and a canvas it remains. Yet, too often the drift of minutes sheds its truistic shell and becomes a subject of cognizance, something that evokes thoughts and feelings, time’s reality giving way to timeless reflection.

Although Proust may have left it to cakes and such emo frivolity to summon the past, today’s past lives in technicolour and surround sound. No more must we trust in imperfect memory. Coming in coruscating images and the numb rumble of mediated representations is a pre-packaged past. Stolen from antiquity, a boon to the memory already hitting capacity. Consign memory and its shortcomings to the trash heap of obsolescence, DVD’s here to take its place. Like the substitution of simulacra for the events of history, personal experience becomes increasingly subject to recreation in the form of media. It’s an objectification, but an objectification carried out by hands not one’s own.

It smells slightly of postmodern pretension and the faddish hunger to mirror someone like Baudrillard or Virilio. It’s more than enough to bring bile to the back of the mouth, to have one shake when faced with the very depths to which they have descended. But this is what I think about when I approach Opeth’s new DVD, The Roundhouse Tapes.

Recorded on a cold, winter evening in London at the tail end of 2006, the show has taken an alarmingly long time to be released. Two years, in fact. The live album was put out one year after the event. Now two years later, we have the live DVD. Evidence it may be of how slowly things move in the music industry, of the restrictions felt by smaller record labels (Peaceville in this case), of video production companies overstretched, of red tape draped liberally upon all corners, how obstacles and the forward march of time unite to delay sights and sound for our eyes and ears – that may be the actuality of it, but the temporal remains the most interesting part for me as I was one of those present in the glow of Opeth that night.

The metal concert is a site of congregation, of fraternity, a place of common feeling and shared energy. Individuation has no place, the group takes centre stage. It’s an experience powerful and elating, a place where the body and the mind are dealt concurrent blows immediately both private and public. The expansive intimacy of the metal concert is what gives such resonance to viewing the recording of Opeth’s sublime performance. Attention is drawn to the two year gap, one’s mind operating in the present and the past: remember that time spent in line, shivering against the icy winter sky? remember the breakneck riffs raging across the crowd as on stage guitars are wielded and drums pummelled? remember beers in a local pub afterwards? Past and the present are interwoven, alternating in micro-movements, creating a vortex of a life, living one moment in a sweaty London music venue, another watching that moment recreated on screen.

The reminder is not just a personal one. It puts on display Opeth’s towering live presence, their faultless musicianship, that ability to play tough, technical passages while maintaining a captivating and galvanising stage presence. The audio has been carefully mixed and mastered and a great deal of kudos must go the band with this in mind. Not only do they successfully perform the music but they’re able to capture the depth of sound that appears on the albums, to capture the vast aural space that their recorded music generates. The juxtaposition of hard and soft, the epic quality evoked in the progressions, the mesmeric creative talents needed to construct these songs, all are on show. I was stunned on the night by Opeth’s live power. Watching the DVD, my opinion remains the same. There is only one word to use: amazing.

On the side of the negative, the DVD does suffer from somewhat dodgy editing. Shot lengths are seriously short, cuts are too abundant. A sight of Peter Lindgren soloing quickly morphs into a circle pit, hirsute bass throbbing is supplanted by frantic ride cymbal bashing. The aim, I suppose, is that the editing conveys a sense of being there, of the viewer having bodily presence in the energetic melee of the gig. However, it’s used far too frequently in concert films, the MTV aesthetic is assumed too broadly. Nevermore’s recent Year of the Voyager DVD, despite the music being absolutely phenomenal, is afflicted by such horribly jerky, impatient editing. The Roundhouse Tapes isn’t quite so extreme and isn’t constant in its flickering visual journey. Occasionally we do get a moment to see what chords Akerfeldt is playing, but sadly it’s rare. Luckily the strength of the performance allows one to overlook the editing; a few songs in and the music becomes the focus.

Alas I was not able to spot myself in the crowd, despite my keen narcissistic eyes being ever alert. Then again, the spotting of some dude with long hair dressed in black at an Opeth gig is going to prove quite difficult. Next time, to make it easier, I’ll wear a pink fluffy pimp suit.


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