Review Summary: Opeth's first record stands as one of the best debuts in modern metal.
Opeth might be considered one of the giants for modern metal, specifically death metal and prog metal these days; However, their influences were a bit different in the early days. Sure they had a similar take on minimalistic, atmospheric progressive metal, their debut album Orchid suggests that the band had roots in other genres as well.
In such an album, you'll find genres like death metal, black metal, folk/neofolk, ambient, classical, and progressive metal. The compositions are still very long, so Opeth fans need not worry; aside from interludes (and bonus track), the shortest song clocks in at about 9 minutes. The album is brimming with the same twists and turns we've come to expect from an Opeth album, with a few interesting surprises of its own. Orchid shows the band in a more acoustic, dark environment here, and the very hollow production offers a lot of support in this way.
Mikael Akderfeldt's vocals here range from death growls, to black metal screeches, to folk-styled clean vocals, and each style is handled in an extraordinary way. His guitar work evades the usual metal shredding for something more substantial, offering clean runs, sweet acoustics, and even touches of jazz here and there. The other band members have no trouble keeping up with Akerfeldt either; Peter Lindgren is an exceptional player, capable of harmonizing with Akerfeldt's style cleanly while offering a wide dynamic range all his own. Johan DeFarfalla isn't heard a great deal here, but keeps the rhythm in place; Finally, Anders Nordin is a very diverse, talented drummer all his own, as well as an excellent pianist (we'll get to that later).
The material here is presented in a very raw fashion, with the heavier songs boasting buzzing guitars and visceral drumming. The acoustic sections are placed well, and keep a black metal atmosphere about them; The opening track, "In the Mist She Was Standing," is a perfect example of this. The song has absolutely no trouble blasting through the speakers and making its presence loud and clear. After an excellent intro, a full-on vocal attack cuts through the noise, with powerful contrasting screeches and growls. After everything settles down, a very sinister acoustic riff is heard, a premonition of sorts for when the next assault begins. Overall, the track embodies all of Orchid's beauty and visceral power.
Some songs are very differently executed. Take the first interlude, "Silhouette." Anders Nordin switches from the drums to the piano (!) for one of the best short songs of Opeth's earlier career. The song maintains the same dark feel, but adds a dose of the classical influence I mentioned before. It starts out in simplicity, Anders playing a slow gloomy melody; The song soon picks up the pace, sounding like a real old-fashioned classical piece from the likes of Mozart or Handel (except obviously darker than either of their styles). "Silhouette" is a very underrated gem in Opeth's discography.
One of the biggest letdowns here is the pace-killing "Requiem." It's a nice-enough interlude, but it seems really out of place compared to the rest of the album. The band could have at least attempted to make the song a bit longer or more fitting, but instead it acts as a blemish leading into such a great finale like "The Apostle in Triumph." Luckily, it's a small problem in the album, but I simply couldn't ignore it.
All in all, the album is still astounding by any standards, and remains an underrated piece of quality work by Opeth. Later albums like Blackwater Park and Still Life might get the most praise, but we can't simply leave Orchid behind either.
Opeth were (in this line-up)
Mikael Åkerfeldt – vocals, lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars
Peter Lindgren – rhythm, lead and acoustic guitars
Johan DeFarfalla – bass guitar, backing vocals
Anders Nordin – drums, percussion, piano