Review Summary: Seamlessly well crafted with some absolutely stellar tracks that is unfortunately let down by a few sub-par moments.
For those expecting an album on the scale of Blackwater Park when entering Ghost Reveries, the eighth studio album by progressive death metal band Opeth, they may well be instantly satisfied. Such is the grandeur of Ghost Of Perdition and the following song The Baying Of The Hounds and one would be forgiven for making a decision there and then that this will be every bit as good as the aforementioned masterpiece. Reinforcing this viewpoint would be the fact that the band had released an utterly stellar single in the form of The Grand Conjuration, an emotional piece dealing with the summoning of the devil. In the case of 2005's Ghost Reveries however people were just expecting a little too much for their own good, resulting in somewhat of a disappointing album although still incredible.
This album was initially percieved as a concept album by frontman and chief songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt who wished to explore the story of a man's inner struggling following the murder of his mother which here symbolises any unforgivable act. In the end however Mikael decided to include the song The Isolation Years on the album which broke apart the plot of the album although it is still there interweaved throughout the rest of the album. The styling of this album is best described as a mixture of the darkest moments of Blackwater Park with the eerie atmosphere attained on the beautiful acoustic album Damnation which preceded this, along with the intense feel that Deliverance contained. This leads to the album becoming an incredibly varied sixty six minutes mixing the brutality achieved by Akerfeldt, Peter Lindgren, Martin Lopez and Martin Mendez with the new official addition to the band in the form of Per Wiberg who had previously contributed to live shows around the Deliverance period. This album was also the final one to include drummer Martin Lopez and ended Lindgren's long spell as Opeth's lead guitarist.
The instrumental work on this release is a mixed bag for an Opeth release with the better moments being some of their top instrumental sections of all time but the weakest songs severely affecting the album as a whole package. The Baying Of The Hounds reminds me somewhat of The Leper Affinity in that it contains some of the most brutal riffing of the band's entire history but also the most perfectly placed melodic clean sections the band has ever used. This remains one of their finest post-Blackwater Park songs to date. The acoustic work on Ghost Of Perdition in particular helps to create a feeling of mourning and loss not quite achieved by the band in so many of their later records, which is always nice to hear. Atonement also stands out as containing some of the most incredible instrumental work the band has ever done, with numerous changes in tempo and style that show exactly why the band is considered one of the best progressive metal bands around. The drumming on this album is something truly special with much more of a jazz influence than one would expect from the drummer of the premiere prog-death band and helps to keep up the varied tones of the album even at the points where it feels as though it is growing stale. The best example of a weak moment on this album is the pointless introduction to Harlequin Forest entitled Reverie that does nothing more than prove why Opeth should never bother with containing a track within a track as it has none of the flow of, say, Holy Wars nor many other multi-part songs in metal. This really does feel like a pointless tack-on that was completely unnecessary and a waste of the band's time and doesn't really build any form of atmosphere whatsoever.
The vocal work has always been at the forefront of Opeth's sound, with Mikael Akerfeldt being somewhat of a legend within the metal scene for his ability to seamlessly change from demonic growls to soothing clean vocals. Whilst his growls of this release pack little of the punch that made albums such as My Arms Your Hearse so incredible to listen to, they are certainly low and powerful with a lot of energy to carry them. The closing lines of Ghost Of Perdition and the incredibly long scream located around two thirds of the way through The Grand Conjuration stand out as some of his better harsh vocals on this album. Once more Mikael shows how good a clean vocalist he is on this album delivering some of the most beautiful and calm vocal lines that help add to the real sense of dread of what is right around the corner for this release. This is certainly his best clean vocal performance to date.
The real weakness of this album is the flow of it all, with some of the songs feeling a little out of place. From Ghost Of Perdition to The Baying Of The Hounds definitely feels like a logical change but then when the listener hits the second half of the album they are treated to really puzzling track placement. Isolation Years does not fit as a closer following the absolute craziness that was The Grand Conjuration, nor does Beneath The Mire do a good job of bridging between 'Hounds and Atonement. Aside from this, this is one of Opeth's absolute best releases as it manages to do a near flawless job of transitioning from brutality to beauty and back to the skull crushing heaviness the band has become known for. This is an ideal starting point for those looking to get into the band and is their most commercial effort to date.