Orchid(Candlelight - 1995)
Opeth's debut, emerging from the wave of melodic Swedish black and death metal of the 90s, already claimed its own niche and unique progressive blend of various genres. With song lengths of 10 minutes that frequently wander into many different soundscapes, Opeth give their music a lot of space to breathe. Rhythmic death metal blends into harsh blackened rasps, developing into pounding melodies before giving way to acoustic guitars and haunting, melancholy doom. Akerfeldt mostly growls and rasps here, with glimpses of the softer singing voice he would use much more in later releases. Themes develop but more often than not morph into different passages, often taking their time and placing a priority on soundscapes rather than structure, with the musical themes only occasionally being developed subtly for the trained ear. Despite this lack of tight structure, Opeth's talent for passionate, gripping and beautifully written music combined with the ambitious and generally aggressive approach on this debut makes this album into one of their best. Not for fans of extreme metal that want their brutality served straight up, but for listeners of living, complex, powerful and epic music. Highly recommended.
Morningrise(Candlelight - 1996)
Morningrise is a logical step forward after Orchid, taking the epic soundscapes further (one track is 20 minutes long), and exploring slightly more progressive and interesting musical compositions. Generally, the album feels more melodic and soft than Orchid with many acoustic sections and softer vocals, but this is hard to judge due to the extremely varying nature of the songs. The powerfully epic Advent features every genre imaginable in one song, doomish, sad and dreamy melodies blend with harsh rasps in The Night and Silent Water, and Nectar contains a lot of very melodic Swedish death with the usual wealth of progressive and acoustic interludes. Black Rose Immortal is a 20 minute epic that is hard to appreciate for the first few listens, but given the wandering nature of their song-writing here, this one can be taken simply as a longer audio-movie of soundscapes. Finally, To Bid You Farewell is mostly an acoustic, wistful and beautiful 10 minute song to end the CD on a soft note. The variety and sounds they can get from the basic setup of two guitars, bass and drums is amazing. In short, another powerful and magnificent album, but this one features their most meandering and atmospheric songwriting, and it is not the best introduction for Opeth beginners.
My Arms, Your Hearse(Candlelight - 1998)
Bucking the recent trend of bands growing softer as well as the expected progression from Morningrise, Opeth produce a much more aggressive and tight album here. This is also a transitional album, before the more progressive and focused songwriting of later albums. Other changes include the (over)emphasized bass, and Martin Lopez on drums delivering much tighter and driving metal-style percussion. The result is a lot of epic, progressive, melodic death metal with some acoustic and softer interludes. The darker doom and black tones from previous albums don't have much of a presence here, replaced with more jagged and progressive death metal that employs a variety of styles and arrangements. Just to give you an impression of how varied it is, some moments in April Ethereal reminded me of Borknagar, and The Amen Corner made me think at times of Morbid Angel, and Demon of the Fall uses multi-layered growls. In short, this is a masterpiece of extreme metal for people looking for the harshest Opeth album without sacrificing any of their unique progressive elements. Akerfeldt develops more depth in his harsh growl and uses his singing voice sparingly. The tracks are all under 10 minutes, but just barely, and due to their tightness, they contain more music per minute than before. The softer sections are briefer and only add to the dynamic aggression instead of wandering into hypnotic landscapes, often building into an eargasmic frenzy. Stand out tracks are the incredibly intense, complex and harsh Demon of the Fall, and the pretty and pleasantly acoustic 'Credence'. Experimental, rich, powerful and challenging. This one takes its time to grow on you and, as a transitional album, actually features a superb blend of Opeth's later, more tight sound and earlier, more free-form passionate soundscapes. Extremely recommended!
Still Life(Peaceville - 1999)
With this release, Opeth made a first modest splash amidst the larger masses of progressive music listeners. It features Opeth suddenly in very tight control of their music relative to previous releases, Akerfeldt obviously inspired by a lot of progressive rock here without shunning his extreme metal base. This is where Opeth's music starts to feel like its beauty and inspiration is engineered, instead of the music itself taking the lead and wandering into transcendental territories, all figuratively speaking obviously. As this sounds, this can be both good or bad depending on what you look for in music. Additionally, the balance between the harsh and the soft is now equal, making this a relatively much softer release for Opeth. Still Life is a conceptual album, and as such, it wanders between many sounds, atmospheres and styles as appropriate to tell its poetic and dark story, with music ranging from melodic, beautifully melancholic rock, to pounding, harsh, and progressive death metal. Opeth is now spiraling and soaring at high altitudes of musical confidence, but somehow also feels more laid-back as it explores euphoric currents. Still Life is a rich masterpiece, with Akerfeldt's talent for beautiful melodies, strong riffs and endlessly inventive arrangements being stronger than ever, with new experiments in groovier, melodic or jagged riffs instead of the driving rhythms of earlier releases. I'd be hard pressed to pick stand-out tracks, as they are all so rich and varied, with the intensity of tracks like The Moor balanced by acoustic beauties like Face of Melinda. Superb and lively progressive music and highly recommended, but only if you aren't afraid of some mellowness in your metal and enjoy it on a tight musician's technical leash.
Blackwater Park(Peaceville - 2001)
Opeth continue to sharpen and fine-tune their new sound on this logical progression from Still Life. Once again, it's a rich blend of progressive death metal with progressive rock, and growing mellower. The Porcupine Tree influence is obvious since they now work together, but sometimes I also think of Radiohead, with the sad far-away melodic vocals and wailing guitars. But it's the new fluid sound and structure of the songs that stand out, giving the whole album a more uniform, natural and sweeping feel that I haven't gotten from Opeth before. All this, together with the complex, progressive, but tight and still amazingly beautiful songwriting probably explain why this became such a big hit with the mainstream. I can see how this would alienate some metal fans, but the music still breaks into savage death metal with amazingly powerful riffs when it needs to, and in my opinion, the melodic rock builds so well into the death metal here that they only enhance each other in amazing ways. Doom metal also makes an appearance again on Dirge for November. I see many reviewers complaining that Opeth's music never goes anywhere, and despite being a fan of musical structure, I feel they are either missing the point or are confused when the music doesn't go where their ears expect it to. Opeth writes musical movements and soundscapes, with minimal nods to theme development and recapitulation, and the music therefore does not have to build linearly, or repeat crushing riffs for a mosh pit, but must develop the mood and story of the song instead. And when each riff and melody is so amazingly powerful, beautiful or passionate, and every song features dozens of these great moments as on this album, the result is a masterpiece. So, it's Orchid for the richest metal release by Opeth, My Arms for their most aggressive, and Blackwater Park for the best of their unique progressive death-rock brand.
Deliverance(Music For Nations - 2002)
Having reached several peaks, Opeth decide to experiment. The concept is to separate the soft and acoustic music from the metal, in an operation much like the separation of conjoined twins, and release these two bleeding offsprings on two CDs. The first track is all set to prove this with a vengeance, and is one of their most purely death-metal songs, with superb growls, driving melodic death, and quintessential-for-the-genre strong riffs and double-bass drums. To my ears, some segments almost sound like they want to wander into acoustic soundscapes, but stay their hand while trying to find the next metal sound to flow into instead. In the middle of the second track however, they seem to have had enough, and it's right back to death-rock with increased prog-rock influences as they try different guitar sounds backed by a wide variety of styles ranging from doom-metal, prog-metal, heavy-metal, death-metal, to a lot of Porcupine Tree (too much in fact). In previous albums, there were short instrumental moments that made me think of Dream Theater, and this album has even more of those. The influences are so varied, that sometimes its jarring. Imagine, for example, some soft Porcupine Tree suddenly breaking out into heavy My Dying Bride riffing. Master's Apprentices kicks into very heavy Morbid Angel riffing and growls, before slowly tapering off into increasingly melodic and soft rock to the point of absurdity. In short, the whole album is full of these extremes and very different styles, and many segments feel copied from other bands or other Opeth albums. Altogether, I can't say this album has grown on me so well. It's like there was too much interference with the songwriting and too many incoming ideas and styles from several sources all thrown together without proper grafting. All previous Opeth albums sounded inspired, but this schizophrenic music seems like it may have been a bit painful to give birth to. It's still pretty good, and has quite a few very good moments mostly at the beginning of the album, but this is quite a step down in my opinion and full of poor choices in the continuously deteriorating second half. If you want heavy Opeth, try My Arms Your Hearse first.
Damnation(Music For Nations - 2003)
Wow, when Opeth says they will experiment with a soft album, they really mean it. This album does what Deliverance didn't: It stands on its own as a complete and successful separation of Opeth's two extreme sides. Here we can hear Opeth's fluidity and beautiful songwriting from Blackwater Park, as if this is where Akerfeldt's heart really lies now and the messy Deliverance was just a quick stunt to avoid being labeled and accused of various nasty things by fans. This is purely melancholic, atmospheric and melodic prog-rock in the vein of Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd et al, except with maybe more repetition and moodiness. Plenty of Mellotron/keyboards are also added. The prog-aspect expresses itself a lot in the instrumental sections with some syncopated drumming and odd time signatures, but there are a few songs that feel like a standard verse-chorus-verse structure, most of them averaging 5-6 minutes this time. Akerfeldt tries various soft vocals, using distortions, mournful and weak timbres, or strongly melodic ones, and while some don't work as well, the majority are very good. Now I am hardly a strict metal listener and I enjoy a variety of genres, so I am not biased when I say that this is not quite a masterpiece, but it is definitely a pleasantly dark, involving, unique and interesting release designed for those rainy or subdued nights. It may have been better served if it were released under a side-project, but that is a moot point. If you're in the mood and are ready for some wistful, dark and beautiful prog-rock, it's superb.
Ghost Reveries(Roadrunner - 2005)
This is Opeth attempting to re-invent themselves while staying within the boundaries of their style. Not that that's saying much; Opeth has always adopted and used any genre of interest to properly express the sound they needed for that particular segment and poetic lyric, and this album is no different. I believe the most prominent differences in this album are that all the genres have now been spliced and integrated together instead of used separately for different segments, and Opeth are now using many more commercial sounds and styles. Not that they have sold-out; this music is too progressive, heavy and complex to be commercial, but populist influences and sounds have definitely crept in. Although previous albums offered a blend of various forms of prog-rock and extreme metal, here, unfortunately, it really starts sounding bastardized, forced and awkward. Opeth used to follow a mood or movement in epic, naturally flowing songs, and now it sounds like they are trying to be 'interesting'. As in, oh look what an interesting arrangement they did here, and listen at the interesting way they merged prog rock, a heavy metal guitar solo and death growls over there with unusual time signatures and textures, but... the song... what happened to the song? There may have been a lack of structure in Opeth in the past, but now there is also a lack of flow, buildup and coherency as well, and this is bad. The arrangements are interesting, unusual and even more varied than usual, but, compositionally, this reminds me of Deliverance: Once again, sounds I've heard from several other bands and genres, many of them unsuitable for metal, all spliced together with some jarring effects and transitions. Imagine Mike Oldfield segueing into Dream Theater which suddenly switches from melodic vocals to death growls with mallcore groove riffing which then changes to Radiohead guitar textures and sentimental vocals. And the list goes on: jazz wankery, Tool, Deep Purple, Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Soundgarden, Radiohead, Meshuggah, Samael, etc. all schizophrenically spliced with death metal by way of Dream Theater. Keyboards are now used often, sometimes with extreme metal for a dark melodic black sound, other times for ambience, or with soft melo-rock sometimes to cheesy effect. I thought that perhaps my ears were too unaccustomed to such bastardized sounds and therefore gave this album some time, but to no avail. I listened a dozen times until I knew the album well and tuned into what they were trying to do, and some segments are good, but generally it just doesn't work, the second half contains a lot of dull meandering that goes nowhere, and most of the album is too disjointed. Sorry. The only exception is the masterpiece The Baying of the Hounds, a superb work of composition with coherent structural development throughout the song that I haven't heard from Opeth before. But the rest sounds not only like every segment belongs to a different song or album, but sometimes its like two albums are playing at once. This is Akerfeldt experimenting but distracted. Their worst album.
The Roundhouse Tapes(Peaceville - 2007)
I am not a fan of live albums in general unless they offer one of two things: Greatly enhanced energy or ambience boosting the songs' power, or new improvisational segments. Even if the band is so professional, as is the case with Opeth, that they can reproduce the songs faithfully live, this simply isn't enough, since you can get a much better sound mix from the originals. The playing here is very competent, although the mix isn't as clear as I would have wanted, opting for a live echoing ambience mixed with crowd noise, which is usually fun as they react to each song segment excitedly and with a fan's knowledge of what's to come. Akerfeldt has some amusing bantering moments with the audience as well. Some light changes are made to the songs, except The Night and the Silent Water to which some keyboards are wrongfully added, and Blackwater Park which is played a bit slowly. The playlist is good, choosing at least one good track from every album and totalling 90 minutes. Altogether, a pretty good release for live album fans, but with nothing much to add for the rest of us.
Watershed(Roadrunner - 2008)
Overall, this album features the most drastic change in sound for Opeth yet. After eight albums, when most bands usually settle for a specific sound, Opeth only seem to be increasing their experimentation. However, the first listen is bewildering and I can't imagine anyone getting anything useful from it. But with this experimental album, you have to relinquish some control and just go where the songs take you to appreciate what Akerfeldt is trying to do. You see, most of the compositions here are so rich, uniquely dark and interesting, that you want to like the music, and you can feel that Akerfeldt has something to say this time and is mostly in control, unlike Ghost Reveries. Since each song is so different and the album generally progresses from extreme to soft, a blow-by-blow review of the album is appropriate: Coil is a moderately nice acoustic melodic intro with surprising female vocals. Heir Apparent is dark and progressive death metal with some Emperor keyboards, great growls throughout the song, and some tightly integrated, unconventional acoustic segments with a flute that magically enhance this superbly written track. Lotus Eater is my favorite: Blast beats with melodic vocals and dissonant buzzing guitars and keyboards, backed by some warped energy, driving beats, many compositional breakdowns, and a sudden calm eye of the storm containing a flute which segues into inspired bouncy Yes keyboards before coming back to dark metal, all somehow tightly working together. I don't know from where Akerfeldt pulled this one, but he must have been inspired. Then comes the ear-shattering Burden, an almost-cheesy but pretty nice rock ballad that is part King Crimson, part Scorpions followed by some truly horrible guitar detuning as a bizarre humorous coda. This track would have been nice on another album, or at least somewhere else on this album, but coming after their most darkly inventive avant-garde track yet, it's just very out of place. The nice Porcelain Heart starts with great big Paradise Lost gothic riffing with a Dan Swano-esque repetitive melodic guitar arpeggio, and frequently wanders to Camel melodic prog rock. Hessian Peel is a partially interesting mess and reminds me why I disliked Ghost Reveries, although it isn't as bad: It starts off sounding like a Camel track with strange, experimental Jethro Tull-esque vocals, then slowly builds into heavy metal, exploding into Emperor black metal, before completely falling apart into about 15 different styles. Hex Omega is the closer, a hypnotic, very nicely dark and moody, but uncomplex atmospheric track. So, once again, a tour of styles and sounds all spliced together, many of them recognizable from other bands, but thankfully, not as commercial and awkwardly spliced as with Ghost Reveries. 70s prog-rock bands have been an underlying influence for many albums now but here they receive the royal treatment. The extreme changes in sound from song to song make it hard to decide when to listen to this album, but since it generally and gradually softens, and the album is experimental in any case, this is not a deal-breaker. Also almost all the songs end with somewhat annoying ambient sounds, as if he didn't know how to end them and wanted to sound more avant-garde. In short, an interesting, rich, complex, varied and challenging near-masterpiece with some flaws, a recommended investment that is guaranteed to grow on you and to always provide a rich experience, but not something you want to start with.
Heritage(Roadrunner - 2011)
I am tempted to call this the soft flipside of Watershed much like Damnation was to Deliverance, but this release isn't as soft as Damnation. In fact, besides the harder prog-rock edges to the compositions, and some heavier tracks, several of the songs sound like 'de-metalized' versions of more extreme Opethian metal. Which means that this isn't Opeth in subdued, moody mode, but Opeth with full musical energy, except that it's all being channeled into prog rock this time. The compositions, however, are as avant-garde, rich, experimental and challenging as Watershed was. To describe the variety of sounds and styles in this album would take pages. One minute it sounds like jazzy King Crimson, then an intriguing fusion of Jethro Tull and Soundgarden, Black Sabbath meets Deep Purple, or a blackened and heavy version of Camel. And so on. Akerfeldt's song-writing skills are way out there beyond his comfort zone, therefore as with Watershed, it doesn't always work as an integrated whole, but the majority of songs and arrangements are astounding and rich gems that can only grow on you. I was ready to call this album a masterpiece on first listen, except there are a some relatively weaker tracks in the second half with beautiful compositions but troublesome transitions. This may sound weird, but some musical lines and chords backed by the emphasis on meandering ambience and musical narratives made me think of Morningrise, as if the Opeth of the 90s had suddenly been rematerialized as an experimental prog-rock band. This is an album that demands attention and cannot be enjoyed in the background. And it rewards immersive listening with endlessly rich soundscapes and compositions, as long as you aren't looking for tight structures. All in all, this will appeal to music lovers that miss the classic 70s where prog-rock bands experimented with uninhibited and fearless creativity. But these listeners had better not have lost their adventurous edge, because this isn't merely a retro-carbon-copy, but a new, dark and experimental fusion. As for me, I am sure this will provide plenty of rich enjoyment and musical discovery for years to come, as did Watershed. I only wish Opeth would engage the left brain more by making use of slightly more structured and thematic progressive compositions instead of these meandering, albeit beautiful, 'observations'.
Pale Communion(Roadrunner - 2014)
Whereas Heritage was Opeth out on a limb with exciting, fresh, inspired but a risky blend of prog-rock and Opeth sounds, this is Opeth taking that sound and polishing it for broader appeal. The music is more melodic here, with several repeated melodic refrains and layered harmonic vocals, making this softer album sound more like the exploratory and melodic approach of Camel with a syrupy dose of Kansas, rather than the edgier King Crimson/Jethro Tull influence of last time. However, the music is, at times, also spiced with dark-sounding Eastern elements mixed with some old school hard rock that is reminiscent of the darker outings by Zeppelin and Deep Purple. So on the one hand the composition is more fluid and accessible, but it is also less surprising and hard-edged. In the end however, no matter how many names I drop and 70s bands I compare it to, there is still the Opeth sound that ties it all together and which gives the album its own sound. Akerfeldt's clean vocals, once again, remind me of Anderson from Jethro Tull, especially in their vocal flourishes, with the occasional bits that seem inspired by Camel, or Cornell of Soundgarden. There are a few moments of awkward vocal arrangement, but, overall, Akerfeldt is in very fine form, pushing his vocal range often to higher-pitches. The guitar employs pretty ordinary but classic-sounding solos here, the drums feel softer for some reason, and it is the many rich keyboards that really inject that 70s sound into the songs. As usual with Opeth, each track offers a slightly unique sound or approach. Standouts include the repetitively rhythmic Purpleish-sounding 'Cusp of Eternity', the 11-minute spaced-out experimental 'Moon Above, Sun Below', the instrumental 'Goblin' which does a pretty good job imitating that titular band, 'River' which starts melodic and cheesy and builds to a rocking crescendo, and the beautifully moody 'Faith in Others'. Overall, it's a good album for people like me that miss the adventurous spirit and organic sound of 70s prog rock, but I rate it relatively lower in Opeth's repertoire, and prefer Heritage for its many moments of brilliance, surprises, eargasms and its slightly edgier music. Opeth can be more powerful than this, even when it does prog-rock.
Sorceress(Nuclear Blast - 2016)
Akerfeldt surprises again with a relatively harder tone and slightly heavier riffing in this outing compared to Pale Communion, with an Opethianized hard rock/heavy metal sound and guitar solos straight out of the late 70s and early 80s. If Heritage was Opeth doing King Crimson, Tull and Purple, and Pale Communion was Opeth doing Camel and Kansas, then this is Opeth doing Deep Purple, Dio and Black Sabbath. But, of course, we are only talking about the dominant tone of the album, except that, as with any Opeth release, each track can wander anywhere with a wide variety of surprising sounds. Heavy Black Sabbath riffing mix with Soundgarden vocals in both 'Sorceress' and 'The Wilde Flowers', 'Will O' the Wisp' is basically an almost-commercial Jethro Tull-esque pleasant ditty, and there's even a moodier, 'alternative' Simon & Garfunkel-esque gentle enchanting track in 'Sorceress 2' reminiscent of the soothing Damnation album. 'Chrysalis' has a very classic and familiar heavy Opeth sound from the 90s although in the style of Purple-ish heavy metal complete with guitar solo and 70s keyboards, and is one of the best tracks on the album except that it makes me miss old Opeth. 'The Seventh Sojourn' is a familiar-sounding Middle-Eastern instrumental outing and sounds very much like Led Zeppelin, only with a meditative ending. 'Strange Brew' starts as a somewhat strange blend of experimental Opeth atmospheric melancholy and prog-rock sound with a middle-section of Jimi Hendrix-esque blues and guitar (thus living up to its title) but builds an effective powerful mood and sound for the last third. It's one of those complex Opeth tracks and takes its time to grow on you but eventually becomes a great one. 'Era' features a surprisingly clunky experimental evolving time-signature and syncopated rhythm that doesn't really work, but develops and relaxes for a joyously rocking and very addictive second half. Altogether, this album is slightly closer to Heritage in terms of heaviness and experimental writing, but it does not have the brilliance of that album and it also adopted many sounds that are more conventional and slightly less interesting. This feels more like Akerfeldt trying a variety of other classic rock sounds and incorporating them into Opeth, rather than being instantly inspired as in Heritage. There is also a low-end mix that makes the sound somewhat muddy. In short, a good one, with some very enjoyable tracks, and it is still good Opeth that grows on you as with their every other release, but it is not amongst their best, and Heritage is still by far the king of the last three softer albums.