Review Summary: A fantastic progressive metal masterpiece
On this record Opeth was:
Mikael Åkerfeldt – vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar
Peter Lindgren – guitar
Martin Mendez – bass
Martin Lopez – drums
Steven Wilson – clean vocals on "Bleak" & "The Drapery Falls", keyboards, mellotron, additional guitar
Blackwater Park is easily one of the greatest metal albums ever created; a stunning landmark within the progressive metal genre, and an album that is sure to spawn clones for years to come. Produced by Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame), Blackwater Park features a musical shift for Opeth, one that would profoundly affect the band in the future, and divide their fan base in two. If there is one thing that any Opeth fan can rely on, its that Opeth will never release the same album twice. With each new release the band has spiraled out, exploring more more musical territory while remaining true to their progressive metal roots. Blackwater Park is no exception to this rule, having the distinction of being the Opeth album that sounds the most mainstream and accessible, which is probably why most first time Opeth listeners are usually directed to it. It was my first Opeth experience, and to this day remains one of my all time favorite albums.
The fifth studio release by Opeth, Blackwater Park has been hailed by many to be their 'coming of age' album, or their breakthrough album; though for an Opeth fan its just another amazing album amongst a discography of amazing albums. One thing is for certain; Blackwater Park features super polished production, a heavier emphasis on progressive rock, and a hint of pop sensibility that can only be attributed to Steven Wilson. Song structure are tighter whilst still retaining their length, there are lots of guitar overdubs and layers, lots of effects, and lots of harmonizing vocals. Overall it was a huge shift in Opeth's sound, while still remaining true to their sound. In addition to his progressive rock influence, Steven Wilson also contributed additonal vocals, additional guitar work, mellotron and keyboard work, and some truly awesome production that allows each band member to shine forth. Production is a huge thing for me, and for a band as talented as Opeth only the best quality will suffice, and Wilson delivers in spades. Each instrument is clearly audible, each pluck, each strum, backing harmony, each hit and each layer of guitar work can be discerned and appreciated. Bass lines are mixed high into the mix, allowing them to be heard and understood; a crowning achievement for any metal album.
The cover art says it all; a decaying, wretched swampy forest, drenched in fog and darkness, and in the distance shadows loom; perfect imagery for Blackwater Park. Like the cover art the music is dark, mysterious, bleak, dirge-like and twisting; yet there is an underlying beauty and sense of nature weaved into the fabric of the album. Musically, doom metal converges with neofolk and progressive metal, and at times a small, tiny hint of blues and funk peek through the hazy mist; Blackwater Park is a feast for your music loving ears. There are lots of awesome non-metal moments on Blackwater Park that may go unnoticed upon initial listens, but will surely unveil themselves to you eventually; like the haunting, almost jazzy piano outro on 'The Leper Affinity', or the traditional Arabic drum pattern in 'Bleak' (which also features an amazing chorus and some really cool breakdowns), or the awesome slap bass sections on the (long and epic) title track. Check out the haunting, bluesy guitar solo in the clean sung sorrowful 'Harvest', or the soft reflecting moment of 'Patterns in the Ivy'. Progressive rock fans will surely dig 'The Funeral Portrait', while doom metal vets may find something to like in 'Dirge for November', an epic tune that swtiches between folk and doom metal. If I had to pick one track that stands out the most on Blackwater Park it would have to be 'The Drapery Falls', which features the most influence from Steven Wilson, taking on a heavier version of a Porcupine Tree sounding song at times, even delving into Pink Floyd prog rock territory.
Blackwater Park, like all Opeth albums is not for the ADHD addled brain, as nearly every track exceeds the 8 minute mark, save for the almost radio-friendly Harvest and the instrumetal Patterns in the Ivy; though there are enough change-ups and breakdowns in each song to stave off boredom (listeners may have issues with 'Dirge for November' which can get downright repetitive in its barrage of doomy riffs). Heck, the title track will leave many out to dry the moment it switches to its acoustic moment and remains there for a few minutes.
The true success of a band like Opeth is the individual players abilities to work together to craft some amazing music. Each artist gets a moment to shine, yet they all know how to back each other and contribute to the whole. Blackwater Park remains to this day a stunning achievement in Opeth's wonderful discography, an album that is deserving of the title 'progressive metal masterpiece'; an album that should be heard and appreciated by all for its amazing musicianship, musically dense compositions and perfect production. The deluxe 2CD edition comes with a second disc featuring two bonus tracks, 'Still Day Beneath the Sun' and 'Patterns in the Ivy II', both of which are must own acoustic tracks featuring beautiful guitar work and Mikael Åkerfeldt's beautiful croon.