Review Summary: Blackwater Park - an amazing evocation of musical styles that in the end, simply dosn't live up to the hype.
Can you feel it?
Arching across the room, a creeping chill – a bite in the air, a shiver down the spine, lost in a leafless forest, with only the moonlight and the sheen of ghosts to guide the way while distant screams echo in the darkness. The mystical and fantastical, an interwoven beauty and horror – it’s a feeling Opeth would have you drowned in, their own aural soundscape, created with their own unique brand of metal. And unique it was, with 1995s Orchid
and subsequent releases creating quite a splash in the underground scene. Opeth’s marriage of metal, progressive, jazz and acoustic passages had the ears of fans of all sorts of music perk up – could it be? Had a band finally emerged that fused it all together so perfectly and seamlessly? A glance at the river of drool stuck to the responses to Blackwater Park
, the band’s magnum opeth, would reveal the answer to be a resounding yes. But while Opeth’s fans hailed the band for taking metal – some would say music – to the next level, the last time anyone looked, being lost in a forest surrounded by a pack of shrieking ghosts wasn’t the most pleasant feeling in the world. But that’s how Blackwater Park
plays out, a thing of wonder, but dry, distant and devoid of a sort of musical ‘life’.
That said, a listen to the first track on Blackwater Park
, should, by any standards, blow you straight out of the water. From the get go, The Leper Affinity
, opens with one of the best passages written anywhere in music, an evil, swaying guitar trudge, coupled with Åkerfeldt’s brutal, almost transcendental, vocal performance, descending into an ever evolving repertoire of riffing, typical of Opeth’s mix n’ match progressiveness. It would be a crime not to mention the riff that blasts its way into the song at about the two minute mark, an all out sonic assault, before opening up to some wonderful melodic death styled soloing. The rest of the song drags the listener over all sorts of musical terrain, from acoustic passages, to more heavy salvos of guitar goodness, and finally ending with a slow, key by key piano outro.
With all my praise for The Leper Affinity
, it becomes almost depressing having to listen to the rest of the album, which simply doesn’t rise to the level set before it. Not even Bleak
, the second best song on the album, with its almost middle-eastern influences and haunting guitar lines touches what The Leper Affinity
is. That’s not to say of course, that it’s a bad song – it’s a great song, but pales in comparison. Harvest
, the first acoustic backed number and third offering on Blackwater Park
, exposes my other gripe with this album - Åkerfeldt’s clean voice. It sounds, unsurprisingly, like a man in his thirties singing with a pretty voice. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, it even fits the music, but it’s so lifeless and distant that its presence seems to suck up any dynamic that’s created with the music.
It’s all downhill from here really. The Drapery Falls
, Dirge for November
and The Funeral Portrait
, are quite frankly, boring to the point of tears. Here, the band sounds so refined, so well versed in their instruments and methods that the songs begin to sound routine and unlistenable. Take The Funeral Portrait
. Its opening riff, reminiscent of Dream Theater, drags out, going on and on and on, while the rest of the song almost sounds like a well rehearsed jam, rather than a self contained piece of music. Even the solos, which provide a well needed breather from the monotony, don’t amount to anything simply because Opeth are just too damn efficient at blending their material to match their progressive sound, smothering any distinctiveness which they try to achieve. By the songs closing moments coming around, while Åkerfeldt wanks around on his guitar, you can almost feel how bored poor Lopez is as he sits in his chair, banging on his drums, one by one, going nowhere but a slow, faded exit. Coupled with that is a lack of dynamism in the music, with the speed button set for either slow acoustic or medium paced heaviness, the sort of thing The Leper Affinity
managed to avoid. Despite all my misgivings, the technical aspects of the songs are still brilliant, and in truth, not everything about these songs are bad – they have their moments – individual riffs are still amazingly well constructed, if only they weren’t lost in the myriad of the fickle structures of the songs themselves.
This album may be evil in its intentions. But it’s a slow evil, dripping and tearing away without causing the sort of jolt that would have taken it to a place far beyond anything created so far. With the exception of the title track (which is another great listen), the rest of Blackwater Park is filled with acoustic numbers – Patterns in the Ivy I
and Still Day Beneath the Sun
, all of which are pretty damn good. Again, the reason is because their acoustic nature allows Opeth to really show off their songwriting skills, rather than hiding behind seamless heavy riffing, creating atmosphere with the minimal tools that they allow for themselves. Still, I would have taken a Benighted
(from Still Life
) over these three songs put together any day.
With Blackwater Park
, Opeth certainly created a monster of album, continuing their penchant for creating wonderful fusions of musical styles and further carving out their niche in the metal scene. But for all their brilliance, the songs here remain as cold and passionless as their earlier releases, with much of the music bogged down and diluted by the very fusion that gave the band its place in the world.