December 2003 Archives

today i got my hands

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today i got my hands on the Opeth live DVD Lamentations, which was recorded a couple of months ago in England.

Very much intended as a companion to the heavy and mellow pair of albums Deliverance & Damnation which were both released over the previous year, the concert features two sets, the first mellow and the second typical or heavy Opeth.

The first set features every track from Damnation as well as Harvest from the 2001 release Blackwater Park. As with the prior Damnation tour - which featured the same tracks plus a few more mellow ones, a fifth member was present on stage playing the keyboard parts that are integral to Damnation. Overall the performance is stellar, with excellent guitar technique and tone. The mix is mostly excellent, with occasional areas where the second guitar overshadows Mike's delicate lead lines. Vocally Mike sounds great, but there are sections which he sings an octave lower than on record probably not confident enough of his ability to hit those high notes on demand!

Mike's on stage banter is still a little stilted and he does come across as a bit of a cute oaf with some of his facial expressions during the performance. He's not the most attractive guy and in some ways a strange choice for a frontman, being so shy and sometimes goofy. The intensity of his skills as a musician more than compensate though.

Personal favourites are the extended version of Closure and the minimalist keys and abstract guitar of the final track Weakness. Harvest was good, but not as good as I was expecting, probably because unlike some other tracks in the mellow set, it was played entirely on electric guitars despite the original track featuring extensive acoustic guitar in the initial section.

Onto the Heavy set, which seems shorter due to the longer songs, Masters Apprentices was a surprise as I'd not heard this played live before and it honestly kicked, as although I'm sure Opeth enjoy the mellow stuff, they really get a thrill out of the tight and heavy songs that form their normal repertoire.

Often bands play stuff faster live, firstly to allow them to fit in more songs and thus please the audience. In addition, they get bored with the studio tempo and want to speed it up for variety. With the heavy set and particularly in Master's Apprentices I noticed that as well as being a tad faster, they were having a friendly interplay between the rhythm and guitar sections - the end result was a swinging jazz-deal metal feel.

The Drapery Falls was excellent as usual, but felt extremely short. I will need to listen again to see if they cut out part of the tail end of the song.

Deliverance was great, but the highlight was as usual the strange outro which seemed to gain a few drum rolls and flourishes that i'm sure weren't on the recorded version.

The Leper Affinity was a strange choice, potentially this indicates the set was decided by marketing rather than the band, as no song appears from any album prior to Blackwater Park - all the prior albums are subject to a different international licensing deal, as they were recorded under Peaceville and/or Candlelight contracts.

If it had been my choice I would have included a track from Still Life - probably Godheads Lament or White Cluster, and closed with the classic from My Arms your Hearse - Demon of the Fall. This would have given a more complete picture of the band and also lined up more with the heavier set they played when touring US and Aus earlier this year.

This is not to say that Leper Affinity is a bad track, nor was the performance anything less than excellent.

My other gripe is that the layer transition is smack bang in the middle of what I consider to be Opeth's strongest ever song - The Drapery Falls. This points to careless DVD mastering, which could have been avoided by re-ordering the material to make the DVD seek between first and second sets - each of which could be on their own layer.

Closing the release is the mellow A Fair Judgement which benefits strongly from the added keys.

The mix on the metal set was great, with everything clearly audible and a good balance between bass, rhythm and lead guitars. My major gripe seemed to be the mix/miking of the snare and tom drums, obviously Martin is going to be hitting these a lot harder than during the mellow set, but I don't think this was fully compensated for, they still sound great - so are probably miked OK but they are at points too prominent in the mix.

Video wise, there is great footage of each performer, mostly focusing on Mike but the Martin's drumming gets a lot of focus as well. The only member who doesn't get much video time is the keyboardist. The video has good colour grading, and is well lit and shot with only the occasional shot featuring over-saturated lighting. The editing is straightforward and flows well, tracking the focal point of each piece as it meanders from performer to performer.

The DVD also includes a documentary which is basically some in-studio footage intercut with interviews conducted around the time of the live performance - nearly a year after the studio material was shot. The interviews are quite revealing of the band dynamics, song-writing approach and the individual personalities of each member. Mike is quite animated when talking about his art, which is quite a contrast from his stage persona (or lack of). Martin (bass) is very much the metal introvert, softly spoken and shy - until the metal beats come out and he can head-bang along rather than talk. Peter (guitar) is the most well balanced of the entire band. It's also interesting to see the opinion of Steve Wilson and his involvement in the studio process.

One of the highlights for me of the studio footage was the footage of Martin laying down the drum tracks, they sound totally different when unmixed and recorded from his perspective. My opinion of him is rapidly changing from a competent to outstanding metal drummer the more I see him perform.

Overall an excellent DVD, with a couple of mastering issues and now a great local price of AUS$31

One of the best purchases

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One of the best purchases I have ever made is my iPod. This NY Times article makes interesting reading about the back-story behind the iPod. Not much I didn't know already but informative nonetheless.

What's under there is innovation, but where does it come from? I had given up on getting an answer to this question when I made a jokey observation that before long somebody would probably start making white headphones so that people carrying knockoffs and tape players could fool the world into thinking they had trendy iPods
Jobs shook his head. ''But then you meet the girl, and she says, 'Let me see what's on your iPod.' You pull out a tape player, and she walks away.'' This was an unanticipated, and surprisingly persuasive, response. That's thinking long-term, I said. ''No,'' said Steve Jobs. ''That's being an optimist.''.

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