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Gig Review: IIT Saarang 2009: Opeth (Chennai)

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It was on the 25th of January 2009 when Chennai witnessed one of the biggest metal bands in the world descend upon IIT Chennai in its annual fest titled Saarang. Firstly, a big kudos to the organizers who delivered what they had promised – Opeth.

The entire buzz about this Swedish metal band was so electrifying that the Open Air Theatre (OAT) was like a volcano about to erupt…and it did. The setting sun made way to the darkness that engulfed the OAT and aptly setting the stage for a night with the country’s most promising bands to display their skills. The crowd slowly filled in as time passed and soon it was jam packed keeping up with the age old tradition of the IIT Saarang.

At precisely 6.45pm, amidst the opening fireworks that pounded the sky like it was war, Mumbai based opening Demonic Metal act Demonic Resurrection waltzed in and literally sounded so tight that they would have snapped any moment. Beginning their metal journey in the year 2000 the band (with regular line-up changes) has since then released 3 albums and has garnered rave reviews throughout the metal world.

The brutal riffing and growls compounded with precision based double bass drumming ensured that all heads at the IIT Saarang were swirling in the right direction. With limited time in their hands, the band promised to pound as many songs as possible and they dutifully did so without further ado beginning with a monstrous epic number entitled Spirits of the Mystic Mountains to their last and most well known number, Frozen Portrait. Mid way, Apocalyptic Dawn saw the band at its best and kept the crowd asking for more but with 4 ear splitting songs, the time constraint in mind saw them bow out in their well achieved metallic–glory of opening for Opeth.

The obvious felt pleasure of giving a chance for an Indian act opening for this global metal act was well received and the band members were gladly vocal and open about it. A massive roar from the crowd to acknowledge and support what had just been mentioned by the band in its statement

In no time did the next astounding band set their equipment on stage and readied themselves to stun people and literally hold their feet to the ground with one of the most spellbound performance of the evening. Enter the arena, Cochin based Mother Jane and the OAT was still dazed after Demonic Resurrection’s opening assault. A bit of tell-a-tale had passed in the air of how long these talented musicians have been around in the Indian Metal or rock scene. In no time they delivered the goods and stood up to their cult following throughout the country since their inception way back in 1996.

In the opening moment of silence came in a voice singing the opening lines ‘Thaka Thakita Thaka Thakita’ of Chasing the Sun, from their latest and critically acclaimed album Maktub and then entered the band members with their faces painted (in connection with their latest album Maktub signifying that we are human and we have a spirit) and then it was all the way looking forward to what was one of the best performances of the evening. The band proved its versatility and brilliance with its carnatic laced-lead solos and off beat rhythm sections and structured drumming, flamboyant and flawless vocals and rhythm sections that fell in place like it was their own playground. The crowd were silent on their toes most of the time through Mother Jane’s songs and a little dumbstruck but the ovation at the end of each song and after the entire performance ensured that it wasn’t a different feeling and that most of them were actually in a trance including me.

Belting some of their well known tracks like Mindstreet (a different version) & Maya to numbers from their latest album, the highly acclaimed Maktub like, Broken, Before one Million comes one, Blood in the apple (a dedication to Bush and Osama by the singer) and closing with Karmic Steps, the band sensationally made it a night to remember under the star lit sky and the fireworks that later decorated the skies after each performance.

At 8pm, the opening acts were done with their respective assaults and had left behind an immortal performance by all means. After the initial battle was won, the war cry of another name began filling the air and engulfed the amphitheatre like it was a gladiator’s call for the final onslaught. The final act’s name was called for, chants were sung, which is like a prequel to any major performance…‘Opeth, Opeth, Opeth, Opeth….’ And at about 8.30pm, the ‘Grammy Nominated’ Swedish metal act had descended upon the stage and delivered the most memorable and the heaviest concert that each Indian was waiting for with abated breath.

The decibel level in the crowd erupted and shot through the open skies as band leader, singer and chief song writer Mikael Åkerfeldt walked in amidst the eerie smoke effects and red lit stage and strummed his first notes and then to be joined by his other members, Martin Mendez on bass guitar, Per Wiberg on the keyboards, Martin “Axe” Axenrot on the drums & percussion and Fredrik Åkesson on the rhythm and lead guitars.

Coming off their global tour supporting their critically acclaimed latest album, Watershed, Opeth belted some of the album’s epic numbers with merciless precision and fury which rang in the theme of ‘Death’ throughout of the songs as subtly mentioned by Mikael. With utmost calm and meaning just business, the band busily kept pounding some insane heavy metal riffs with some phenomenal interludes which had the melody and clean vocals and was complemented well by the radical drumming that swirled the crowd from one end of sanity to the other end of meaning. After letting the crowd know that they were mightily pleased to be there, their promise to play a long set-list like never before did bring in a huge roar from the jam packed audience who were longing for this assault.

Despite requests to the people in the back row to not to push the ones in the front, the hapless security got the help of Mikael himself to bring a little sanity to the mayhem they had brought upon for a start. After the initial dose to their kind of music, the crowd certainly got every ‘rupee’ worth every moment of Opeth as they swam through the ocean of metal and presented their best material from their 19 year old career spanning 9 albums and many accolades globally. Some in the crowd were inducted in their kind of music and others who did not have a clue were left stranded and wanting to know more. For those who knew the band and its music, it was nothing short of metal brilliance personified and it certainly laid to rest all the myths and shattered all disbeliefs that metal was dead…its alive and kicking for sure.

Some of the best numbers that the Opeth came through in their epic performance including 2 encores were Heir Apparent,  The Grand Conjuration, Godhead’s Lament, The Lotus Eater, Wreath, Bleak, Hope Leaves, Deliverance, Night and the Silent Water, Demon of The Fall, Baying of The Hounds and The Drapery Falls. With each song spanning an epic 7 – 8 minutes on an average the band showcased their metal influences and writing skills with the interludes as magical and eerie as possible with mosterous rhythm riffing, skilled lead guitaring and booming bass backed well with pounding drum rolls, thundering bass beats and a less prominent but a power packed keyboard performance. In the entire performance, each member had his moment of glory and left the entire crowd asking for more till the encore quenched all their metal thirst for the times to come.

Many issues like the usual sound and mixing problems did arise but all of that was certainly dismissed as the performance by all the bands progressed to lift people from all technicalities and just their hands showing the devil horned sign and their scream to get the show going as ‘Energy’ was the mantra of the evening and it was simply phenomenal.

At about 11pm, a final bow by Opeth and the metal express halted and the feast had ceased and silence prevailed soon with another round of fireworks signalling a victorious end to the concert and a big farewell to the 2009 IIT Saarang that made all of this possible. Many fans went back dazed and still in disbelief that they had witnessed one of the world’s biggest metal acts in ‘Chennai’ which some regard as a conservative city when compared to Bangalore.

With Iron Maiden coming to Bangalore yet again in February 2009 for their wrap up of the ‘Somewhere back in Time’ tour, this year surely seems to have gotten onto a rocking start and promises a lot for our country to be toured by world class acts and also a chance for our Indian bands to set foot on stage and rub shoulders with some of metal’s legends. May this be the end of the beginning…

-Darkknight

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