After the release of "Still Life" in 1998, Opeth went into the studio to record the latest step in their musical evolution. Their career had taken them through many of the shapes of modern black metal up to this point. Their albums "Orchid" and "Morningrise" proved that they had mastered the art of melodic death metal, and from that point the band decided to go in a different direction with "My Arms, Your Hearse." Some fans, however, regarding the direction taken on "Morningrise" to be excellent, balked at the decidedly more dissonant, heavier tone of the new album. Thus, on "Still Life," Opeth married the progressive influences and the heavy influences in the way that "Blackwater Park" displays, with equal parts light and heavy, in addition to a whole lot more reverb and thickness, courtesy of new producer and Akerfeldt confidant Steven Wilson, of the British prog band Porcupine Tree.
"Blackwater Park" is, as said above, mostly a refinement on the sound of "Still Life," with little new innovation or changes in direction. There are full-blast metal moments, moments of breathtaking beauty, and lighter, acoustic sections layered with Akerfeldt's ever-improving clean vocals: in short, everything one can currently expect from Opeth. In this case, this "refinement" proved so successful that it is thus far Opeth's highest-selling album, selling hundreds of thousands of copies in the States. Here's the album track by track.
The Leper Affinity
"Blackwater Park" was my first Opeth album. I didn't know precisely what to expect. I had heard excellent things about them and I was, believe it or not, apprehensive. Would I like a marriage of a genre I despise(death metal) with a genre that I love(progressive rock)? With that attitude in mind, the opening to this song was terrifying. Just terrifying. A discordant piano chord fades slowly in, louder and louder, until it's really loud and you know the explosion is coming any moment, but it doesn't come it doesn't come and then it does, and the explosion is greater than you imagined. The riffs are fast, dissonant, and evil, and the aura this music gives off is of a castle where nothing except the most perverted rituals are performed. This barrage continues with Akerfeldt's reverbed, awesome death growls and never lets up. The assault gives way to the most perfect guitar solo I've heard Opeth perform(and I have nearly their entire discography), and then breaks through to one of their famed harmony breaks, with lead guitars singing over rubble-pounding chords. Sound melodramatic? This is simply the way my emotions were being manipulated on my first listen. It's not melodramatic: this was how Opeth's sound and fury being unleashed on a completely new listener felt. The acoustic sections and clean singing that follow are just gorgeous, and the song ends with a great prog-rock riff and an eerie, self-contained piano section. This was my first taste of Opeth, and I already knew I loved them.
Surpassed only by "Black Rose Immortal" and closely followed by "The Moor," this song is my favorite Opeth song. It's groove is considerably slower and, if possible, even more eerie than the previous tune, and a highlight is the echoing E-bow lead floating above the dry-sounding acoustics and the distorted guitars. The rest of the song begins to follow a fairly standard structure until Akerfeldt's clean vocals make a return with some of the best singing of his career. It slowly quiets down until we reach an almost bluesy acoustic section, and I personally was amazed at how WELL the death metal section flowed into this part. It left me feeling like, "How did I get from there to HERE?" What follows is a great riff with a heavily distorted lead that itself goes back to the most gorgeous, instrumentally dense section Opeth ever put to tape. Listen to this with headphones and hear everything that's going on. It's breathtaking. The song ends with repeats from earlier and then the sound of a tape breaking. Awesome.
In the tradition of "Benighted," we have a nearly all-acoustic song here, with no metal sections. My opinion is mixed. It's certainly very pretty, but since I wasn't used to Opeth's habitual use of dissonant chords in their acoustic sections, the middle section threw me for a while. I eventually got used to it, though, and realized that for Opeth, writing something standardly melodic would have been a cop-out. This isn't the best, but it's still very high-quality.
The Drapery Falls
Okay, now, this song is interesting. It seems to be more "mood music" than anything else Opeth has made. The important thing, though, is that this song is next to impossible to categorize. It's so original and unique-sounding, combining so many various elements of a lot of different types of music, that I can't believe that four guys just came up with this stuff in a couple of weeks. The intro is really the prime example of that. Where, in any band anywhere, have you heard an intro so...impossible to pin down? The sections that follow are totally cool, with melancholy acoustic while(It's that E-Bow Again!) the slide guitars swim around the sea of reverb above them. The metal sections are fairly standard and to be honest, go on for way too long, but the short acoustic bits resolve back to the intro in a nice way.
Dirge for November
This song is easily the most forgettable one on here. That said, the beginning and ending to this one are just great. The reverb-laden "wall of sound" breaks down to great effect with Mikael just sings and plays his guitar for a few seconds, and his voice isn't even tuned properly, which adds an interesting contrast. There's more beautiful music, but it's followed by music that I just can't get into. The metal music doesn't make me bang my head, it just makes me scratch it. This is followed by a way-too-long, but nice, clean section with eerie E-bow harmonies lurking in the mix. The weakest link in the album, but not THAT bad.
The Funeral Portrait
The 12-string that opens this sounds very good, but the riffs that follow almost sound like ones lifted from the middle of Dream Theater's "Another Day!" ("Duuh-duh-duh-duh-da-dat-daa-da-da-dum..) Still, it's very cool. The acoustic sections are real evil on this, helped out by Lopez's nice fills. The long, multiple guitar solos that close the song are also pretty nice, as are the harmony vocals. A solid Opeth song.
Patterns in the Ivy
An instrumental acoustic/piano duet. This is a short, nice interlude piece. I don't really have much to say, 'cause it's only a minute long.
This song is chock full of the heaviest, most evil riffs Opeth ever recorded. The song also reverses the structure of "The Leper Affinity" by placing it's mellow interlude right near the beginning, which, unlike other such interludes, is not hampered by its length. Then, the metal assault which follows does not let up for a single moment for the rest of the song. Particularly awesome is Akerfeldt's "death-metal harmony" in which two screams of different levels of bowel-churning-ness are combined to make the most evil metal blast on the entire album. You must listen to this. It's amazing.
I know this review was long and a lot to digest, but so is the album. It requires patience, and a keen musical ear: there's really no point in listening to Opeth if you're not going to really listen to them. The production is awesome, being really, really dense and bone-dry at the same time. It truly adds to the relentlessly bleak mood of the CD. The deluxe import has two bonus tracks, "Still Day Beneath the Sun," an acoustic number that is quite nice, and "Patterns in the Ivy II" a rare "sequel song" that is very beautiful, and which is quite worthy of the title. The harmony solo at the end is particularly beautiful: I go out for walks at night listening to this and just close my eyes, thinking about stuff. All true lovers of rock music will like this CD. It is already a classic within the metal community and could easily turn into one of the most influential rock albums of any genre of the early part of the 21st century.