Review Summary: Opeth effortlessly blend various emotions, brutality and overall euphoria with "Blackwater Park". A personal, moody album for me, and one that changed my life and my view on music entirely.
"The sun sets forever over Blackwater Park" is the closing line to Opeth's magnum opus. Stifled laughter might echo through your average prog snob at the concept of a masterpiece created post-1967, whilst firmly clinching onto their “Court of the Crimson King” and “Wish You Were Here” vinyls. BWP finally shines light on a rare and often controversial blend of beauty and brutality. Everything from the lyrical content, to the crystal clear tones out of the Paul Reed Smith guitars, to the haunting keyboard melodies that effortlessly bleed into you are presented in this record. This album paved the way for a lot of band's own inspiration into their music. Many attempt to take a page out of the band's ability to sound so beautiful but maintaining its aggressive content. Ultimately all falling short, as this album's modus operandi of all the key elements to an epic record stand above even the more technically capable bands. This is the true package. From start to finish, BWP manages to put you exactly in the eerie haunting sense of euphoria, connecting the listener directly into the shoes of the album's disturbing protagonist. Flawless in its execution. Perfect in all aspects. Let’s get to it.
1. “Leper Affinity”
The journey begins with a haunting ambience slowly ascending higher and higher; awareness of the quick break into chaos is pretty much inevitable. By the time the listener acknowledges this, the discordant piano keys are immediately interrupted with classic Opeth brutality. Dissonant screaming chords with Opeth’s fine touch of slides, quick pull-offs, and muted transitioning licks that could piece together any guitar riff, from Animals as Leaders to ZZ Top. Mikael’s growls enter, much to your mother’s disapproval. The screams are far more demonic and crisp then his previous work. (however, falling short of the “Ghost Reveries” album soon to follow) All backed by the amazing Martin Lopez, with his signature fills and hi-hats. Less than 3 minutes into the song, you’re presented with one of Mikael’s finest solos, one that gives a first time listener an idea of Mikael’s amazing vibrato and flawless bends; never falling out of key or tune. The song soon follows with an uplifting, but yet calm lead melody eventually leading up to a completely new section of the Opeth musical repertoire. Referring, of course, to Mikael’s amazing clean vocals and excellent acoustic melodies. The song ends with a slow, beautiful, yet tear-jerking piano ballad. 10/10
The quiet, peaceful mind state the listener has soaked in from the 2 minute piano outro to track one is immediately broken by a powerful distorted E chord and chilling E-bow effects-most likely courtesy of Steven Wilson. “Bleak” then immediately breaks down into one of Opeth’s most memorable riffs, containing some fine legato licks layered on top of the E barre chords. Slow and demonic vocals immediately follow. Scary, eerie, enough to scare the *** out of “rock” fans listening to the album in a dark room. The vocals immediately haunt you. The violent content of the opening lyrics put a frightful shock into the listener, but thanks to the wonderful clean vocals by Steven Wilson; puts a sense of innocence and allows them to fathom the chaos prior to the clean vocals (I’ve heard a reference of Mikael and Steven basically acting as a duet of the devil vs God, respectively). Thus explains the reasoning behind the murder concept and allows the listener to relate to the killer. SW’s lyrics clearly explain it is a song of revenge. “Breath comes out white clouds with your lies” Justice served. Every man has a dark place in his heart that he would find himself in, in the protagonist’s shoes. Shortly after, a heart-warming solo that will put any average blues player to shame. Excellent vocals, guitar structures and Steven Wilson turn this song into a masterpiece. 10/10
The album keeps the moods drifting with a perfect track line up, with an amazing acoustic track that immediately locks onto the melody of quick aggressive strums. Great clean vocals on top of a very catchy vocal melody. It’ll be one you’ll find yourself humming to for a while (few years to this day for yours truly). Very nice chords accompanied by great keyboards; with a nice jazzy solo, could easily be heard on the radio despite the dark lyrics and the few dissonant chords thrown in. It would be a song for kids all over the world strumming on their acoustics trying to get laid at a campfire. With all the pointless rambling aside, the song is a fantastic acoustic peice, although it doesn’t quite break away from its standard setup. Thus making it possibly the easiest song to listen to as a new fan, while being the catchiest song on the record due to its lack of dramatic key changes seen throughout the album. 9/10
4. “The Drapery Falls”
The song that most of the main aspects of Opeth’s musical variety are displayed. Starts with clean strums quickly touched up with light distortion. Classic Opeth riffs soon break down into a heavy jam carried by Martin Lopez’s amazing touch with hi-hats and flawless fills; definitely separating it from any average drummer. You know ML’s drumming as soon as you hear it. Some clean strumming effortlessly creeps its way into the song, shifting the listener into a completely different trance; mainly due to the haunting lead melody played with an E-bow. Eventually going into a fantastic vocal harmony that will close someone’s eyes and force him to hum along too. Defiantly a moody song with a lot of changes. The song covers a lot of ground. The chaos comes back and continues until a breaking point where the song immediately slows down into a dark, slow strumming D-minor and C chords, backed with amazing clean vocals. It serves almost as a breath of fresh air, and a step back into reality. 10/10
5. “Dirge for November”
The most emotional song on the album. Starts with very depressing clean yet out of tune vocals; which I feel makes it even more chilling, immediately followed by a warm melody that picks the song up. Goose bump material as Opeth can really set a dark yet sad aura upon it’s listeners with ease. After another great lead with flawless bends and excellent notes to truly set the darkness to follow. The metal picks up and Mikael’s evil lyrics definitely open your eyes and soon realize the dark nature of this song. After the protagonist is eventually granted his eternal sleep and “fades into tender care” that’s exactly what the closing of the song does. Slowly drifts you off with sad cleans and dark key melodies. Sad, but yet crushing in the middle sections. This song is dark. 10/10
6. “The Funeral Portrait”
Very clean chorus acoustic intro, most likely done with a 12-string. It quickly shifts into a catchier, more standard metal riff involving heavy evil sounding chords and groovy slides with great muted fillers. This song is pretty straight forward in your face, as it follows a pretty heavy groove throughout the song. Packed with some of the finest lead playing on the album arguably, along with excellent riffs. A fantastic straight forward metal song.
7. “Patterns in the Ivy”
Short instrumental track. Clean acoustic backed with excellent keyboards by SW. It definitely slows everything down, allowing you to sit back and just close your eyes. With all that aside, I feel it just prepares you for the insanity to follow. 8/10
8. “Blackwater Park”
Finally to the climax of all the madness. The self titled track that marks the first for the band at the time. Sitting over 12 minutes, the quiet opening note quickly becomes clearer, forewarning you’re about to go to hell and back. Immediate evil riffs blare straight into your body, possibly overcome with fear of how evil the chords sound. Opeth definitely cram this one with some of their more evil riffs, accompanied with a drop-D tuning, this song is heavy. After moments of pure chaos, another evil melody soon arises, slowing the madness down earlier on into the song which is quite rare, but sets up for a long closer (the song is 12 minutes you know) The slower sections still maintain the haunting phase that the song has produced already. It gradually ascends back into one of the song’s epic riffs with quick yet eerie bends and slides. All in all, as quietly as the album started, it ends; with a very nice acoustic melody slowly fading out. I’ve heard a lot of “epic” albums, but this outro definitely takes the cake over bands such as Dream Theater- who completely excel in this style. Amazing and memorable closer to this epic song; more importantly, a masterpiece of an album. 15/10 !
Blackwater Park is definitely one of the moodiest and personal albums I have ever heard. The ability to keep a listener actually “listening” from start to finish may be improbable for people who don’t listen to a lot of death metal or progressive music. It’s hard to find the right person to recommend Opeth to, because there isn’t many bands out there who sound even remotely similar. It’s also easier to listen to upon musicians. Mikael’s emotional guitar solos can really influence any lead player, along with Martin Lopez’s amazing drums that could easily fit in with a group of jazz musicians. This band is musically deep, with the ability to expand and cover many musical genres. If it doesn’t seem to click with you, then it’s for a reason. It’s a rare style that listeners either immediately fall in love with, or hate (blah blah songs are too long, screaming vocals, unorthodox timing, long tension build ups)
Yea, that can easily be said from a person who listens to standard music, following the same formula as everyone else. Listening to one ***ty Five Finger Death Punch or Ozzy song, following the same formula song after song-insert verse, chorus, verse, chorus, terrible solo, outro-all crammed into 4 minutes. How much emotion and influence can you actually achieve from such basic songs, using the same barre chords as the next guy, with a chorus that tries way too hard to be catchy instead of actually making a creative statement. i.e. a Skillet chorus, “I feel like a monster” I believe it was, repeating itself over and over throughout the song in hopes of fans relapsing it to their friends as if they haven't heard it enough. Not disrespecting these bands in any way, but I feel due to their heavy radio play, society feels that this is rock, and this is what it’s supposed to be. People accept it into their lives because it’s what they’re used to and honestly, a lot of people aren’t even aware that there’s truly amazing band’s off the radio. I was one of those people, sure. I thought Metallica and Slayer were cool, until I stumbled upon greatness just off references from random guitar center dorks and metal message boards all over the internet. Bands like Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and of course Opeth entered my life. All in all, if you’re looking for a change in music, you simply have to work for it.
When I said it’s hard to find the right person to recommend Opeth to, I pretty much meant if someone is truly into music (listening to albums from start to finish with high quality headphones, dissecting every part of every song, studying lyrics, building your own synopsis to the story) then they’ll enjoy bands like this. Break the formula. *** the strict system every band feels like they need to maintain, otherwise they won’t get their air play with huge suites filled with nice spread, big screen TVs' and the infamous groupies who feel like they’ve truly met an artist because Joe Blow played 4 mediocre chords and had a catchy radio chorus which pretty much lands him on MTV. With all this pointless (bitter if you will) rambling aside, a battle I will not win, I’ve learned to accept it and it makes me appreciate the bands in my massive iTunes folder, which everyone seems to scratch their head at. Ultimately, Opeth is an honest band, and which is why they will always continue to be one of the most respected bands on the planet. If you’re looking for something beyond some background catchy song while you’re cleaning dishes or in the garage working on your piece of *** Ford, then it’s time to embrace something more sensitive, controversial, and original. Let your balls drop. Pick up Blackwater Park and let it change your life in music as it did for yours truly.