Review Summary: A masterful progression for one of the greatest progressive bands of this generation.
Looking back on the beginning years of Opeth, what really made the band’s early releases stand out was how bold they sounded. Long, adventurous epics consisted of winding metal riffs juxtaposed with mellower passages of acoustic and clean guitar harmonies. What these impressive early releases suffered from, however, was lacking a real sense of cohesion. Individual songs like “Advent” and “Forest of October” were fantastic on their own, but as whole albums, sitting through a full listen was difficult. My Arms, Your Hearse
is thankfully a complete overhaul of that formula. This third release is a concept album featuring a much darker, more intense sound overall. It not only improved Opeth’s style at the time, but still stands as one of the band’s finest recordings to this day.
The most immediately noticed improvement is the state of Mikael Akerfeldt’s voice. Much deeper and more intense, his vocals are one of the most commanding and impressive aspects of …Hearse
. No longer utilizing the high growls and raspy screams of past albums, “Demon of the Fall” in particular showcases evil sounding, demonic vocals not usual for the group. One of the greatest songs Opeth ever penned is also the perfect example of the band’s increased songwriting skills. The balance of light and dark that has always been present in their sound is displayed magnificently. The crushing metal of the first few minutes goes through a blur of transitions before immersing you into a beautifully poignant outro, all in only six minutes. The bass driven, tranquil “Credence” follows effortlessly, offering a welcome reprieve from the preceded intensity.
It’s impossible not to notice the major growth these young musicians displayed in both songwriting skills, and the role of the guitars. Depending on your preference, the shorter sections of calmer acoustic guitar playing will be either a positive or negative change. In any case, it is in service to a less meandering sound that is ultimately for the better. These sections are still just as impressive as they ever were as well. New band member Martin Lopez contributes nicely to these new developments, contributing a furious drumming performance. The guitar riffs are also heavier and faster, with a far more immediate quality than heard before. This record marked the first with a permanent line-up, and the newfound stability within the band shows in the success of …Hearse
. From a modern perspective, this major progression would become the gold standard for Opeth’s legacy.
The improvements extend beyond the core songwriting to every aspect of …Hearse
. The production and mixing is much beefier than on Orchid
, with the metal sections sounding appropriately heavy. Akerfeldt’s monstrous roars and soaring croons alike are given the stronger sound that they deserve. The increased emotion he gives suits the dark, melancholic storyline appropriately. These lyrics tell a ghostly tale of loss, one that I will refrain from explaining here, as it must be experienced through hearing the album itself. One interesting quality of the writing, though, is how the final line of nearly every song consists of the following’s title. This helps to articulate just how connected and cohesive …Hearse
is compared to the band’s original sound.
Song lengths are the shortest of all their metal releases, and the musical style is streamlined to perfection, with no meandering qualities marring the effect. The likes of “Karma” would not be found anywhere on Orchid
. Pummeling drums and frantic metal riffing drives it forward, being the first of many straightforward, furious recordings akin to the style of Deliverance
. While the final metal epic is a fantastic one, the ending of …Hearse
is an unexpected surprise. With the pounding “Karma” fading into a single strummed acoustic guitar chord, the Floydian “Epilogue” follows, closing the masterful record magnificently. Soulful guitar soloing is played throughout, backed by a beautifully tranquil rhythm section. “Epilogue” remains the band’s finest instrumental piece to this day, showcasing all the epic, brilliant qualities of Opeth’s softer, more contemplative sides.
The most impressive aspect of …Hearse
ends up being how effortless the contrasting sounds come together. Brilliant melodic guitar harmonizing and soloing is found in nearly every song, courtesy of newly matured dual guitar-playing techniques. Mikael Akerfeldt and Peter Lindgren’s compositional skills are improved immensely compared to previous releases, being one of the few Opeth albums that never drags for too long anywhere in the run time. The three epics “April Ethereal,” “When,” and “The Amen Corner” feature a slew of memorable riffs and quick acoustic guitar lines, building toward incredible outros. This marks one of the finest qualities of …Hearse
, with the songs really feeling like they build towards something special as they go. A full listen brings the band’s fantastic improvements to light, along with rendering the album’s storyline to be as melancholic and affecting as it is in theory. The first displays of Opeth’s finest qualities rounds out the band’s best release up to that point, in all of its beautiful, poignant glory.