BRET’S RAMBLINGS presents OPETH!!!
Blackwater Park (Legacy Edition); Deliverance, Damnation and Lamentations DVD/CD by Opeth (The End Records)
At the beginning of this century Stockholm, Sweden’s Opeth crafted albums that would set them on the path to the Progressive Rock album Heritage. It seems a fitting time to bring to the world these albums to re-examine how they began to incorporate folk, jazz and softer elements into their metal leanings.
Opeth have always possessed a delicate touch to their songs, but singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt seemed determined to subvert, if not simply expand the band’s death metal sound by adding thematic textures and dramatic spaces. Porcupine Tree main man Steven Wilson was brought in to produce the clean vocals and guitars on Blackwater Park and it is the Legacy Edition with the book-like packaging and extra making of DVD that is re-released. Perhaps it was Wilson’s lighter sound that gave Akerfeldt the courage to stretch the limits of Opeth’s extreme metal template. This creative partnership has also led to a tour with Porcupine Tree, further production and mixing credits through the years with Opeth as well as the Porcupine Tree’s evolution into a much heavier band in the past decade. This friendship has culminated in the Storm Corrosion album, their first effort as a duo, out this spring on Roadrunner Records.
Blackwater Park contains so many awe inspiring moments throughout, and their progressive tendencies make certain the longer tracks never drag, with movements that go from galloping metal to acoustic guitar-adorned touches all completed by Akerfeldt’s melodic clean vocals and deathly growls.
On the album the listener is taken on a journey through violent landscapes bursting with angry guitars and double bass drums yet always reaches a place of uplift if not pure beauty. No track feels calculated in the ways light and dark elements are presented, more as if an organic whole. The Drapery Falls, long a live favorite, begins with an introduction of soaring guitars and epic feel, then the percussion drops out and subdued acoustic strums and electric guitar wails enter the mix, Akerfeldt’s strong vocals adding mystery. For the middle part the band plays heavier, Akerfeldt growls and then the band returns to the soaring guitar tones of the beginning, taking us full circle. Dirge For November‘s second half is an echo adorned solo guitar piece tha proves the talent of the group is not dependant on volume, these guys can truly write some soulful music. One of the most balls-out tracks on Blackwater Park is The Funeral Portrait with multiple guitar solos, a groove that prevails against the various tempo breaks and a chorus of clean vocals followed by dueling guitar solos to close out the song. The title track introduces not one but four guitar lines during the song’s quietly intense second part nestled between two bruising metal passages. And on The Leper Affinity, the live version opens up the mix so that you can better appreciate Martin Mendez’s jazzy bass as well as Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren’s guitars.
The next year Opeth released Deliverance, a six song mostly metal album. The band continued to explore dichotomies of light and dark, ugly and pretty, soft and hard. Jumping out of the gate with Wreath, 11 minutes of progressive metal, Akerfeldt lowering his voice to a drawn out deathbed gurgle, the movements withing the song almost like scenes in a movie, little instrumental interludes between the scenes. Lindgren’s guitars on this opening track are simply stunning. The title track works up a head of steam with Martin Lopez’s double bass thumps and the guitarists trading minor chord riffs. Showing their lighter side, the band switch back and forth in the song from clean vocals and quiet backdrop to angry, pummeling metal like silk wrapped around a jagged blade. Fair Judgement contains soulful and bluesy guitars amidst its brutally cold surroundings. Absent Friends is a short instrumental of jazzy melancholy guitars that will pique your interest into what artists are in the band’s record collections. Master’s Apprentice has a chill-inducing sense of wonder, expertly mixed by Andy Sneap so every cymbal crash, every high note from Akerfeldt, each guitar note is crisp and clear.
In 2003 Opeth released their non-metal album Damnation, likely the album that pissed off the moshers and brought in new fans at the same time, those not so interested in head-banging and Cookie Monster vocals. Opeth’s musicianship was never doubted, so on these slower, mellower songs Akerfeldt and company truly get their chance to loosen up and shine. Its the atmosphere and overall mood of the songs that make Damnation a satisfying listen from start to finish. Window Pane has rightly been a live staple to this day, a rainy day song of regret and introspection, lightened by warm electric guitars and Martin Lopez’s limber percussion. Akerfeldt’s halting opening vocals segue into mesmeric melodies augmented by Steven Wilson’s wispy keyboards and supported by Mendez’s gentle bass progressions. On Death Whispered A Lullaby the band craft a song of mystery with tight percussion and strummed acoustic guitar with an electric guitar solo in the middle of the track to heighten the tension and a frighteningly good scrawl at the end. Closure is the most rocking song on the album, hard percussion and a grooving rhythm section, a repeated electric guitar line is joined by soaring keyboards into a dervish of swirling vitality. If Hope Leaves didn’t have such a paranoiac air about it, the song might have been heard on soft rock stations around the world, containing another wonderfully emotional turn from Akerfeldt. Damnation closes with Weakness, Wilson’s mellotron bringing to mind Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter with the keyboard’s echoing quality, Akerfeldt quietly sings “Gave away your one and only heart/ A gift to tear apart” as if he’s barely holding back tears of sadness.
The year I first learned of Opeth was in 2003 where the band toured with Porcupine Tree, they started with harder songs with full band then Akerfeldt took a stool and accompanied himself with acoustic guitar for songs from Damnation. On Lamentations, a live document of a performance at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in September of 2003, now available in the 2006 re-release featuring two CD’s of the entire set. Damnation is performed with Blackwater Park‘s Harvest snuck in before Weakness followed by songs from Deliverance and a few earlier songs. In the live setting the songs truly breath, each member stretching out with little flourishes and tunings that bring different shades to the songs. Between songs the viewer is treated to Akerfeldt’s self-deprecating humor about the band being filmed and hoping not to fuck up too much and for the audience to cheer loudly to make the band look good.
Ghost Reveries and Watershed followed, furthering evolving Opeth’s blending of harsh and soothing, tough and delicate before dropping most of the distortion and double bass drums for a straight-up progressive rock album in Heritage, with songs that are more British Prog than Death Metal. The 2003 tour proved once and for all that Opeth would no longer be known as only a metal band, but one that gleefully hopped the fences between progressive rock, folk, jazz and other genres to suit the song and satiate Akerfeldt’s muse. The world has been entertained and enlightened by Opeth’s journey and will eagerly continue to follow them to the next stage in their career.
(Review by Bret Miller)