Review Summary: Unmemorable and frustrating at times, which is dissapointing considering the frightening amount of musical talent displayed at certain points11 of 18 thought this review was well written
Repetition. That's how I'd characterise this album. Mid-tempo metal that repeats the same riff over and over again. The Moor starts off with about two minutes of ambient build-up, followed by an acoustic section that leads nicely into a big heavy riff, and this is all great. It's a fantastic way to start the album, and immediately upon listening, it's apparant that this album is going to be epic. And it is, in a way. Just not a particularly exciting way.
See, that first heavy riff that comes in during The Moor, is played over and over again. Then another mid-tempo, chord based metal riff comes in. And then another. Throw in some pretty excellent growls here and there, and the record is almost listenable, if not a little dull. Unfortunately, the random interspersal of clean guitar sections and clean vocals tend to kill any attempt at momentum the album builds up. Mikael Akerfeldt's clean vocals are, for lack of a better word, cheesy. It's almost cringeworthy the first time they kick in, and irritating thereafter. And it certainly kills the atmosphere. There's no doubt the guy can hit the right notes, but it just often feels like the more mellow sections are tacked on at random, thrown in for the sake of variation rather than any sense of necessity or pace. They drone. But then, the whole record drones.
The guitarwork on the record largely comprises of disorted chords played repeatedly, often with a lick somewhere in the progression, and maybe some lead on top. To be fair, the use of chords extends beyond basic powerchords, and the progressions are often quite impressive. The leads tend to be geuinely enjoyable, if not quite samey throughout the album. So the guitarwork, overall, is complex and interesting. For the first song or two. Because then it seems that certain progressions recur all throughout the album. It's almost as if the band decided they'd found something that worked, and tried to drag it out to entire album rather than contain it to a single song. The drums really don't help matters either, as although there are a ton of interesting fills and some very impressive rythms backing up the guitars, they maintain virtually the same pace throughout the entire album.
Much has been made of the atmosphere that Opeth records evoke, and it's true that the band can quite skillfully paint a musical picture of despair and solitude. In the heavy sections, the effect is achieved seemingly by the aforementioned chain repetition of riffs, which does work to create a sense of being crushed. Unfortunately, this is undermined by the fact that after a little while, all the heavy riffs sound the same, and the effect is largely lost. The clean sections, on the other hand, are an entirely different story. The use of acoustic guitar on the album is stunning, particularly in Benighted. While the transitions into these sections can be hit and miss, some are flawless, such as early on in Moonlapse Vertigo, itself an album highlight due to the feeling that more is happening than usual. Harmonies, leads and counterpoints on the clean guitars are geuinely wonderful to listen to though, ranging in mood from forebording to relaxing, with some unexpected surprises thrown in that are outstanding. It almost feels like sacrilige when Akerfeldt starts crooning over these moments of musical genius.
Having briefly touched on the album's harsh vocals, they really bear mention all of their own. Akerfeldt, when growling, is an absolute monster. His voice is deep, threatening, demonic, and incredibly powerful. There's almost a sense of having something big and muscular from some long forgotten wood in Sweden with fangs and horns towering over you about to tear you to pieces. It's this stunning voice that saves the repetitive distorted sections of the album from becoming a total bore.
And that's what this album often ends up being. Boring. Far too little actually happens over a seemingly infinite span of time at points on this record. It's often hard to tell if anything else is ever going to kick in somtimes, and often when something else does kick in, it's another mid-tempo metal riff that is again repeated into infinity. Even the clean sections can suffer from this, brilliant as they are, because they just keep on going and going. There's a fine line between atmosphere and droning repeated noise, and Opeth often overstep this boundary, which is geuinely a shame. There are highlights though, such as Benighted's clean sections, the first few minutes of Moonlapse Vertigo, and pretty much all of Serenity Painted Death, which manages to maintain interest despite repetition due to the riffs and leads being utterly brilliant. Serenity Painted Death even packs a solo that is ridiculously listenable, probably the highlight of the whole record.
The problem with rating this album is that none of the material is actually bad, with the possible exception of the clean vocals. Every riff, lick or passage is, on it's own, fun to listen to, and skillfully crafted. Sometimes these various sections are assembled well to create some very memorable sections in the songs, but all too often it just kind of feels like they were thrown together at random in the hopes they would stick. To reflect the album, I'll bring up the repetition again just because it's so frustrating, and makes certain songs borderline unlistenable, with The Moor being a serious culprit. This isn't a bad album, it's just unmemorable and frustrating at times, which is dissapointing considering the frightening amount of musical talent displayed at certain points.