Review Summary: A breathing canvas of overwhelming beauty, Opeth's Blackwater Park is one of the biggest landmarks in the music of the 2000's... and rightfully so.
Rarely does there come a band like Opeth. Opeth present a certain sound and atmosphere that always create a cause for conversation within the rock community, good or bad. Trademarking their style of progressive death metal, they seem to follow the formula better than most, of course creating the frightening metal/soothing prog combo that a fan or detractor can smell a mile away. In essence, they may be the ultimate definition of "love 'em or hate 'em" in the realms of metal. However, there should be no argument on their best album, 2001's Blackwater Park.
The heaps of acclaim sitting atop this recording seem overly massive, but it's only because of how true the claims are. This is truly the defining album of Opeth's career, after many high-quality albums that seemed to be building toward this grand moment. The riffs are titanic, the melodies seamless, the vocals heavenly (and scary), and the rhythm section explosive. Basically, imagine if your favorite artist was making an immense mural of the best moments in your musical life; then, somehow, he uses a form of magic to let you step inside and see for yourself.
We start with "The Leper Affinity", most likely the best piece written in Opeth's history. A dissonant chord fades in and introduces the first riff... a massive, pounding, intensely atonal chord progression that really digs into your core. Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals, while gutteral and raging, are also very cold and bone chilling. The sheets of guitar distortion offer a very vivid backdrop of the same effectively hollow atmosphere that haunts this album's duration. Riff after riff pounds the listener into submission until a very neoclassical melody kicks in, leading into the solo. The solo here is absolutely mind-bending, showing that a guitarist doesn't need to show off or wank on the instrument to get the point across. The acoustic section in the middle is also bone-chilling, but for a different reason. It's remarkable how effective such a simplistic guitar melody is when paired up with Mikael's vocals thrown in, and nothing feels contrived whatsoever. Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson leads the song out on an eerie note, with sparse piano notes played for about 2 minutes.
Even with such an amazing opener, the rest of the songs never disappoint either. "Bleak" lends its hand with a dark Middle-Eastern beginning before hellishly crawling across the eardrums in a great 3-minute mosh-fest. Steven Wilson, once again, provides vocals; this time for the chorus. The acoustic passage, once again, is stunning and well-placed as a nice respite from the musical war taking place. Meanwhile, the peaceful "Harvest" gives the listener some good ear-room with nice folk melodies. "The Drapery Falls" begins as more of a power-ballad, before morphing into heavy (but emotional) interlude where the growls return in very nice form.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how well Opeth combine multiple styles together without sounding disjointed in any way. Take the epic title track for instance; the song features many sections of repetition, but they're complimented by the extremely pleasant layers of instrumentation... it's like a monolith that takes many listens to fully open up in full. "Dirge For November" is the same way as well. It begins with an acoustic intro/passage that could've easily fit on Still Life's "Benighted", but then explodes into a fully realized metal song with the same dark guitar sound layering it. While the sound is loud, it also has a magically subtle quality about it, which is absolutely remarkable in and of itself.
The band members are no slouches at their instruments either. Mikael (the man himself!) shows incredible diversity with his vocals and guitar work, ranging from genres like metal, progressive rock, jazz, folk, classical, and more. Martin Lopez gives a suitably percussive-yet-shifty tone that compliments each swift change in the music. Peter Lindgren holds his own very well against Akerfeldt's style, and even throws in some nifty soloing of his own. Martin Mendez is stunningly underrated in this record, giving the dark, swift basslines his own personal stamp of quality as his instrument weaves in and out of the other musical action.
All I can conclude with is this: This is a record that everyone must own. Every generation and every country should adore an album like this, as one like Blackwater Park rarely makes itself known. If you like music and consider it art, this is a must.
For this album, Opeth was:
Mikael Åkerfeldt – vocals, guitar, acoustic guitar
Peter Lindgren – guitar
Martin Mendez – bass
Martin Lopez – drums
Steven Wilson (Guest): Piano, Backing/Harmony vocals