Review Summary: Opeth softens up their sound, completely eliminating the extreme metal influences from their song writing. Needless to say, the 43 minute progressive rock offering is among the greatest albums released over the last few years.
As I sit in my bedroom, writing the opening sentences of this review, I take a look out the window. The skies are cloudy, grey, and gloomy. The street is quite, dull, and empty. After the long winter, it's quite a familiar, unwelcome scene. When I gaze upon the cover art of Opeth's 2003 album, Damnation, I get the same sort of feeling. Like the scenery outside my window (Well, actually the clouds are kind of clearing up now. Whoops), Damnation's art conveys a bleak, grey, unpleasant picture. Yet (unlike my street), it has a mysterious feel to it. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what it's trying to depict, but it does seem to reflect the emotions of the album. Often portrayed as an experimental record, Damnation isn't so much a change in musical ideals for Opeth, but it does introduce a new sound. The polar opposite of Deliverance in terms of delivery (pardon the pun); Damnation is a softer offering, void of any distortion or death metal growls. Yet despite this, Damnation still manages to be my favourite album from Opeth.
As I mentioned earlier, Damnation is not totally different from the band's previous outings. For me, just as in the past, the most important part of the album is the emotion that Opeth crafts and delivers. Even without the extreme metal influences, Opeth still manages to produce fantastic arrangements, which make use of soloing (electric guitar is used in Windowpane), harmonies, as well as enjoyable acoustic and clean guitar elements which draw in the listener and do not really let go for the entirety of the album. Songs from Hope Leaves to Closure to the four minute instrumental Ending Credits all feature impressive guitar work. Both guitarists, Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren, play a series of complex riff work which, due to the subtlety in which the guitars were laid out, feels very simple. Now how about these emotions I've mentioned. Opeth's seventh full length studio effort covers a variety of feelings, the most notable in the 43 minute recording is that of deep regret and sorrow. But when listening to Damnation I feel a sense of appreciation. It's a very powerful record in this sense, especially the album's closer Weakness, with its depressing, melancholic mellotrons.
Perhaps the most impressive physical element in Opeth's musical arsenal is the vocals of Mikael Akerfeldt. As I had mentioned earlier, his powerful screams and growls were not made use of during the entirety of the album. So instead, Mikael has to rely on that of his cleaner singing. And I must say, his efforts here are quite superb. Much like the guitars, Akerfeldt's voice is soft and crooning, evoking similar emotions to what the guitars create. Some of the strongest vocal offerings I've heard from Mikael, they fit the attitudes or Damnation exceedingly well. Sombre, soothing, calm, any of these words would be a fairly accurate description of what's to be heard from the Opeth frontman. To go with Akerfeldt's impressive performance is the lyrical element of Damnation. With lines such as "I can't see the meaning of this life I'm leading / I try to forget you as you forgot me / This time there is nothing left for you to take, this is goodbye" or "Weaker now, drawing fluid from me / You kill me / I'm not afraid of what you have just done / But of what you've just become" this is obviously the most frightening or depressing aspect of Damnation. But don't let negativity of the lyrics turn you off from the album, as they fit the direction of Damnation very well, and are very powerful underneath Mikael Akerfeldt's voice.
Originally to be released as a double-disk album with Deliverance, Damnation was pushed back a few months after the release of the former. Yet, this isn't a problem at all and in fact might have been a rather good thing. Throughout the entirety of the eight track, 43 minute album, Damnation holds its own rather well. The obvious progressive rock influences work exceedingly well with the emotional, intertwining sound Opeth employs, as tracks such as In My Time of Need, Windowpane and Hope Leaves show listeners. This is probably my favourite of the Opeth albums I have heard, even without the extreme metal influences, as the song writing is superb, the feel of the album is excellent, and the subtle yet complex performances are quite enjoyable. A definite classic which I wholeheartedly recommend.
In My Time of Need