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The University of Hartford

Sam's Sonic Freakout
By Sam Hatch

Opeth – The Roundhouse Tapes (Peaceville / all-region DVD)

Fans of the Swedish progressive/folk/metal band Opeth have been waiting patiently for this video companion to the 2007 live double CD of the same name, and one of the first things that strikes the viewer upon first spin is that this concert (supporting 2005’s Ghost Reveries) is already two years old now.  It marks the final official live release of guitarist Peter Lindgren, as the band have since replaced him with Fredrik Akesson, recorded a new full-length CD (this year’s incredible Watershed) and travelled the globe on numerous tours.
One benefit of touring so frequently is that the band seems to get better and better with each visit, and as much as it pains me to say it, this release even trumps their sonically brilliant DVD release Lamentations.  There’s also a remarkable lack of repeat songs when comparing the track listings.  While The Roundhouse Tapes (a cute nod to an old Iron Maiden recording entitled The Soundhouse Tapes) only sports nine songs, the running time of the gig is still close to two hours and just about every era of the band is represented.
Old songs removed from the mothballs (like Orchid’s Under The Weeping Moon) become sparkling gems when given the full live band treatment, especially considering relatively new member Per Wiberg’s contributions on the keys.  The only disc that doesn’t receive a nod here is Deliverance, which is a bit of a shame given how incredible that album’s title track is.
In my review of the earlier CD version of this concert, I mentioned how warm the bass sound was, and that I imagined it all taking place inside an old, wooden venue converted into a pub from the remains of a sacked pirate ship.  This is where video changes the listening experience greatly, for the indisputable fact of the matter is that The Roundhouse is actually an old London turntable shed used to rotate steam locomotives in the 1800s.  It’s served on and off as an arts venue ever since then, and Opeth frontman Mikael Akerfeldt seems truly amazed that he’s playing on the same stage graced by The Doors in the late 60s.
This concert appears to be a bit brighter than most live DVDs, since the audience is clearly visible most of the time.  There are still some moments of deep color (mainly purples and reds), but for the most part the entire venue is lit rather brightly.  That said, there’s still a decent amount of contrast to the widescreen enhanced standard definition picture, and black levels had plenty of ink to them.  The bitrate seemed to hover at around a conservative 5 to 6 megabits per second, but I couldn’t notice any distracting artifacts. 
The pleasing visual experience is also augmented by numerous segments that are ‘treated’ to look like old, grainy stock footage.  There are also a number of black and white pieces that are further softened to essentially resemble flashback scenes from some unknown movie.  Another fun aspect of the DVD experience was getting to see some of the visual gags (such as a naughty T-shirt thrown on stage, and some of Akerfeldt’s notorious mugging) that got lost in the translation to audio-only.
Speaking of audio, there are a few choices for your listening pleasure, from the original stereo tracks to Dolby Digital and DTS 4.0 surround tracks.  As I’ve already listened to and reviewed this show in stereo, I opted for the DTS mix and cranked it up.  As expected, it is indeed much warmer than the Lamentations DVD.  Whereas the CD predecessor could come off as slightly muddy on a car stereo system, hearing the mix spread across an array of speakers opens up the soundstage greatly and offers a pleasing, well balanced mix. 
The mixers (Akerfeldt and Jens Bogren) opt not to aggressively separate the instruments, but instead create a solid front stage that bleeds naturally into the rears, especially whenever delay effects or echoes come into play.  For the most part Akerfeldt’s guitar emanates from the front right and Lindgren from the front left.  The rhythm section is generally tied to the screen, though occasionally Martin “Axe” Axenrot’s drum fills pan across the speakers. 
Wiberg’s moody keyboard offerings blend into everything naturally, and can also sometimes emanate from behind the viewer.  But the true star of this show is diminutive bassist Martin Mendez – his electric bass is given a punch and clarity that is just fascinating to listen to.  At times I grew mesmerized by his infectious bass lines, and even found myself surprised to learn he uses slap bass techniques in some songs. 
Not to say that any other member of the band is guilty of slouching.  To the contrary, everyone seems on top of their game, and there are plenty of goosebump raising moments.  Akerfeldt’s voice is also a wonder, and both his soothing crooning and bestial bellowing fires out of the front speakers with a remarkable crispness and realistic presence. 
Fans of the man’s predilection for dry wit will be pleased that all of his humorous stage banter has made the cut.  Plenty of material becomes ripe for commentary – from 80s rock bands to the proper way to display ‘rocking’ with your fist to his pretentious wishes to include such instruments as the lute on the band’s earliest releases.  There’s also a very funny band-introduction/porno-funk jam during which he introduces himself as “Bubba Smith”.
The fans are rowdy as hell during the performance, and their raucous furor generally emanates from the rear of the room.  This separation also helps to locate some of the louder calls from the crowd, many of which are heard and answered by the jocular frontman.  Many of these obsessive fans are interviewed during the end credits, fairly including some people that were only there for the opening band!
Bonus features include a longer pre and post-show collection of fan interviews, and a number of individual and collective interviews with the band.  It’s interesting to see Peter Lindgren carefully fielding questions about the band’s plans to make new music, since shortly after this gig he quit the band to focus on his personal life.  Other bonuses include an unpolished segment of the soundcheck and a decent sized photo gallery comprised of snapshots from the event.  All in all the entire presentation runs slightly over two hours.

Also be aware that there are a few packaging options available, if such things matter to you.  The most common release I saw was an oversized jewel case, but I managed to dig up a German-made, book styled digipak with very attractive matte artwork.  The inside contains a small booklet comprised of band photos and production credits.

In my version, the booklet is connected to the inside cover, but I’m guessing it is also included in some fashion with the other release. 
Both versions also come with a series of oversized Opeth postcards, in case you want to mail out notes to your friends and family about the wonderful time you just had on your living room couch.  Whichever package you choose to get, be sure to get one of them, since this is a stunning release from one of the best live bands out there right now.

Tracklisting:

  1. When (originally from My Arms, Your Hearse)
  2. Ghost of Perdition (originally from Ghost Reveries)
  3. Under The Weeping Moon  (originally from Orchid)
  4. Bleak (originally from Blackwater Park)
  5. Face of Melinda  (originally from Still Life)
  6. The Night and the Silent Water  (originally from Morningrise)

*layer change*
      7.   Windowpane  (originally from Damnation)
      8.   Blackwater Park (originally from Blackwater Park)
      9.   Demon of the Fall  (originally from My Arms, Your Hearse)

Audio was reviewed on Rotel, SVS and old school Advent equipment, while video was viewed via upscaled DVD on a 100-inch screen generated by a Sony HD LCD projector.

Copyright©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2009

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