(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, melancholic doom. Akerfeldt mostly growls and rasps here, with glimpses of the softer singing voice he would use much more in later releases. Musical themes sometimes 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 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 one of their best. Every single track stands out with its epic beauty and multiple powerful passages, but I suppose the absolute eargasmic epic classic is 'Forest of October', followed closely by the epic opener 'In Mist She Was Standing', and 'Under the Weeping Moon' has an incredible building atmospheric dark power that gets me every time. This one made me an instant lifelong dedicated fan when I heard it in 1995 and I have followed every release avidly since then. This debut has never aged nor lost its power, and it is one of their top 3 or 5 albums, despite younger fans that say otherwise. It is a blend of death, black and doom metal, together with acoustic dark music, and it a harsher and darker sounding album than later albums with a dominant black-metal sound. 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.
(Candlelight - 1996)
Morningrise is a logical step forward after Orchid, taking the epic dark 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, then it is doom-metal and sad, dreamy melodies blended 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. It does feature many beautiful as well as intense segments however, it's just hard to follow as a single piece. 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 managed to get from the basic setup of two guitars, bass and drums, is amazing. Like the debut, the dominant sound is black-metal with doom, even though it has plenty of death metal as well as acoustic music. This would the last album with this dominant blackened and harsher atmospheric sound. In short, another powerful and magnificent album mostly similar to the debut in terms of approach and quality, but this album features their most meandering and atmospheric songwriting and relatively less of the power of the debut, and is therefore 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. The dominant sound is also more melodic death-metal than black/doom metal. Other changes include the 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 for a very dark sound. 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', the even more intense and eargasmic underrated dark masterpiece that is 'Karma', 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 progressive sound and earlier, more free-form passionate and beautiful soundscapes, along with some of the most aggressive passages in their repertoire. Which means this one is extremely recommended as it has the best of both worlds! This definitely has grown to be amongst my top three Opeth albums.
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 and doing more interesting progressive things relative to previous releases. Not that previous albums weren't progressive, but here there is more variety and fusion of genres from outside of metal. Akerfeldt is 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' so-to-speak, instead of the music itself taking the lead and wandering into transcendental territories, all figuratively speaking obviously. In other words, relative to the first three albums' looser musical paths and eargasmic, soaring powerful climaxes that seem like they might just go out of control, this is more composed in its demeanor and compositionally rich and tight. Note that these are all relative and comparative descriptions only and the differences between this and previous albums are somewhat subtle, so take this with a grain of salt. But it does mean that the previous three albums have something unique to offer compared to the next batch of albums. Additionally, the balance here 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. At first listen I was taken aback by the new approach that seemed to lack that special power of previous releases, but this has grown on me very very well nevertheless, especially from a compositional point of view. 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', and special mention of the strong arrangements in 'Godhead's Lament' and the powerful 'Serenity Painted Death'. But this is one of those albums where every person is going to have different favorites and it will change every week, simply because all of the tracks are almost equally great. Superb and lively progressive music and highly recommended, but only if you aren't afraid of some mellowness and tight progressive compositions in your extreme metal (compared to earlier Opeth). Earlier albums may offer more power, and will remain favorites forever, but this one is musically more complex and therefore very involving in its own way. An excellent release.
Blackwater Park
(Peaceville - 2001)
Opeth continue to sharpen, improve 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. At the same time, the compositions are so good and powerful often on this album that it has many more intense moments than Still Life. 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. 'The Drapery Falls' stands-out with its intense progressive eargasmic musical climax, and doom metal also makes an appearance again on the hauntingly dark and beautiful 'Dirge for November'. Another stand-out is the magnificently epic title track 'Blackwater Park', and even 'The Leper Affinity' gets quite powerful often. I saw some reviewers complaining that Opeth's music never goes anywhere, and despite being a fan of tighter musical structure myself, I feel these people are either missing the point or are confused when the music doesn't go to places their ears expect. 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. This album is the most perfectly balanced and polished of all Opeth albums containing a bit of everything both old and later styles, although other albums may offer more in a specific area. So far, it's 'Orchid' for the richest pure metal release by Opeth, 'My Arms' for their most intensely aggressive, and 'Blackwater Park' for the best of their unique progressive-death-rock brand.
(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 separate 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 Opethian-trained ears, some segments almost sound like they want to wander into acoustic or rock soundscapes as Opeth is wont to do, but they stay their hand and flow into the next metal sound instead. In the middle of the second track however, they seem to have had enough of all this harsh metal, and it's right back to death-rock with prog-rock influences. And then the third track goes full-on mellow rock and doom/heavy metal. Which raises the question of why this was marketed as the harsher album, until you hear the next album 'Damnation', that is, which is Opeth's most extremely mellow pure-rock album even compared to later releases. In addition it must be noted that compared to Blackwater Park, this does indeed sound heavier overall and focuses more on metal sounds. And the sounds and styles are very varied indeed: Doom-metal, prog-metal, melodic heavy-metal, death-metal, a wide variety of prog and classic rock, and a lot of Porcupine Tree. The influences are so varied, that sometimes it is jarring. Imagine, for example, some soft Porcupine Tree suddenly breaking out into heavy doom-death My Dying Bride riffing. Or, 'Master's Apprentices', which kicks into very heavy Morbid Angel riffing and growls, before gradually tapering off into increasingly melodic and soft rock to the point of absurdity. It's jarring but it does grow on you somewhat. 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 as well as other Opeth albums even after a few years (but there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had). It sounds like a distracted or handcuffed version of Opeth: As if there were too many ideas and styles from several sources all thrown together with only superficial grafting, or that Opeth was holding back from what they really wanted to do. All previous Opeth albums sounded inspired, but this schizophrenic music seems like it may have been 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 relative to previous albums, and full of disjointed choices in the way many songs are put together. Other examples: 'Wreath' starts out very nicely in the first half with many powerful arrangements, but even this track wanders somewhat aimlessly in the second half. 'Deliverance' is by far the best track and grows on you nicely with its musical richness and very good, epic composition from start to finish. 'A Fair Judgement' is a soft 10-minute metal song but is a bit out of place on this heavy album, and then jarringly switches to doomdeath in the last two minutes. The last track 'By the Pain I See in Others' is the most chaotic song ever, like they took left-over unused segments from many better songs and spliced them together, and it is a very schizophrenic experience. In summary: This album grows on you after a while, but only in individual segments; Taken as a whole, it's somewhat clunky and all over the place in terms of mood, style and flow. Weak Opeth is still better than many bands out there though so take this with a grain of salt. If you want heavy Opeth, however, definitely go for My Arms Your Hearse first.
(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, Radiohead, 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. Keep in mind that I love old Opeth even more, but this does what it set out to do beautifully. If you're in the mood, and are ready for some wistful, dark and beautiful prog-rock, it's superb.
Lamentations - Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire
(Music For Nations - 2003)
As the first live album from Opeth, this release is exciting. But the timing during a weaker period for Opeth, and the set-list is highly disappointing. They play the complete Damnation album from start to finish, three tracks from Deliverance (two of them weak by Opeth standards), and three from the great Blackwater Park. This selection is wrong for many reasons: For starters, the first amazing four albums are completely neglected. I did like the Damnation album, but it stands separate in its own world, and it would not be the strongest drive to make me run to see Opeth in a live setting. It also clashes with their heavier material, and doesn't quite work together in the same sitting. The audience was also way too hyped to start them off with a whole album of this more delicate material and they are simply too noisy for it. The sound mix is quite good, the instrumental playing is very good, the energy is above-average, the crowd makes too much noise at the wrong moments, and Mikael's vocals are generally very good but he does falter on some of the more delicate moments. So, altogether, this first live album is a mere decent snapshot of a recent weaker period, rather than a summary of their repertoire so far, with most of their best live material left out. It's not what I hoped for from their first live release.
Ghost Reveries
(Roadrunner - 2005)
This was the most difficult Opeth album for me to get into, and not in a good way. I see this as paired with 'Deliverance' in the same way that 'Blackwater Park' is paired with 'Still Life'. I.e. it has a similar approach to 'Deliverance', but is more polished and advanced, and with better composition overall. However, it also has similar problems to that album with clunky compositions that shift in extreme ways between many jarring styles and sections. For years I thought this was Opeth's worst album. Then it grew on me, with limitations, and nowadays I enjoy it much more, especially some brilliant individual segments or songs, except that some tracks have more problems than others. This album sees Opeth adopt many more styles, many of them from hard rock, classic or otherwise, while remaining within within their unique progressive-extreme-metal genre, some style adaptations succeeding more than others. I think it's the way that everything is spliced together that bothered me, prioritizing dynamism and extreme exploration over musical flow and structure. Older Opeth was always very dynamic and rich, but the flowing moods, soundscapes, musical styles and transitions were more coherent and smooth than this. Sometimes, forced attempts at making the music more interesting and to incorporate many different styles simply result in the song-as-a-whole getting lost. The one glaring exception on this album is the masterpiece 'The Baying of the Hounds', a superb work of flowing composition with coherent structural development and smooth flow throughout the song that I haven't heard from Opeth before except perhaps in Blackwater Park, and its progressive-death-metal version of Deep Purple is reminiscent of 'Drapery Falls' with a deliriously eargasmic intense middle section. Regarding the other tracks: 'Ghost of Perdition' grew on me nicely after a long time and is quite good although it can get a bit jarring at times with its extreme variety of styles and segments. Both 'Beneath the Mire' and 'Reverie / Harlequin Forest' are reminiscent of 'By the Pain I See in Others' in the sense that they are chaotic in terms of coherent structure or style/mood, and just shift from one completely different section to another. But they do have more beautiful, interesting or strong individual sections than 'Deliverance' if they are enjoyed in sections (especially the middle section of 'Beneath the Mire'). In other words they are journeys with a variety of segments, some of them interesting or beautiful, but they are not coherent musical structures that flow into one another, and, as opposed to earlier albums, the transitions between new sections are too sudden and the sections too different and some of them are clunky or uninteresting, and this is what probably threw me off this album for quite a while. 'Atonement', 'Hours of Wealth' and 'Isolation Years' are moody, slow, darkly soft and beautiful tracks that seem like they were taken from 'Damnation'. So, once again, nice music, but a bit jarring if looking at the big picture. 'The Grand Conjuration' has a dark unique sound that sticks in your mind, but it seems to be going more for repetitive dark and pounding atmospheric music rather than filling its 10-minute running time with soaring music. Though it has a very memorable blend of Morbid Angel, Samael and Dream Theater throughout the song, if you can imagine that. In summary, a flawed, difficult, but still very enjoyable work that grows on you, as long as you can enjoy bits and pieces rather than a coherent experience.
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 and well done, 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 which adds to the fun. Some nice, very subtle changes are made to the songs here and there, except The Night and the Silent Water to which some keyboards are wrongfully added, and Blackwater Park which is played too slow. Otherwise, the playlist is very good, totalling 90 minutes, choosing at least one good track from every album, nicely alternating between light and heavy for a dynamic experience, which is one of the things that makes this miles better than Lamentations. Altogether, a very good solid release for live-album fans and much much better than the previous Lamentations, but for the rest, this will merely be a competent release that won't be counted amongst the classic live albums. For an even better live album from Opeth however, see Concert At The Royal Albert Hall.
(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 immediately, and you can feel that Akerfeldt has something to say and is not only in control this time, but is also obviously very inspired and 'in the zone', unlike Ghost Reveries. The compositions not only have a coherent musical flow to them, they are uniquely fascinating, and the album promises to be the most unique and inspired album of the decade even on first listen. 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 pretty and wistful acoustic melodic intro with surprising female vocals. 'Heir Apparent' is dark, brilliantly put together progressive death metal with some Emperor keyboards, great powerful growls throughout the song, and some tightly integrated, unconventional acoustic segments with a flute that magically enhance this superbly written track. The climactic, intense pre-coda section threatens to spiral out of control before it suddenly pulls it all together for a redemptive soaring melody that somehow ties it all together. But just when you conclude you heard the most brilliant composition of the album, along comes 'Lotus Eater', my favorite of the album that simply blows me away every time, reminiscent of Yes in its insane inspired brilliance and uniqueness: An eerie intro that gives me chills every time breaks into 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 as an integrated whole. I don't know from where Akerfeldt pulled this one, but he must have been truly inspired. Then comes the ear-shattering 'Burden', an almost-cheesy but quite nice rock ballad that is part King Crimson, part Scorpions, part Camel, followed by some truly horrible guitar detuning as a bizarre humorous coda. Taken on its own terms and excluding the coda, this track would have been very nice on another album, or at least somewhere else on this one, but coming after their most darkly inventive avant-garde track yet, it's just very out of place. If you switch gears fast enough though, it's fun and pretty. Then comes a dark, heavy and sad work that really grows on you emotionally like an old familiar festering wound: 'Porcelain Heart' starts with great big Paradise Lost gothic riffing with syncopated drumming and a Dan Swano-esque repetitive melodic guitar arpeggio, and it frequently wanders to a sadder version of Camel-esque melodic prog rock. It's a simpler and more repetitive-sounding track, but give it time. 'Hessian Peel' is a partially interesting mess on first listen and it reminded me why I disliked Ghost Reveries, but after many many listens, this one too grew on me until I now think it brilliant. It is possibly Opeth's most challenging and rewarding composition that has its own internal musical language that is very hard to describe. It starts off sounding like a Camel track with strange, experimental Jethro Tull-esque vocals and King Crimson keyboards, then slowly builds into majestic heavy metal, suddenly exploding into full-on Emperor black metal with Dream Theater instrumentals, before falling apart into about 15 different musical styles but ending on a mind-warping extremely intense death metal arrangement that climaxes the journey in a somehow satisfying way. You may, at first, appreciate this one as a journey rather than a coherent musical composition except there are also so many brilliant, weird, insane, inspired or enjoyable musical segments on this track, that it soon becomes compelling and, after a while, the final segment should hit you as nothing less than mad genius, like the beginning of the album. I can't explain why it works, seeing as it is so chaotically-structured, but the experience is simply transcendent and indescribable. Finally, the album closes with 'Hex Omega', a hypnotic track, very nicely dark and moody in a King Crimson way, but uncomplex and atmospheric. Which brings us to the summary: Once again, a tour of styles and sounds all spliced together, many of them recognizable from other bands, but not all, and the way they flow together are very inspired this time, and the songs as a whole are brilliant and are all Akerfeldt in a new god-mode, upping his game. Prog-rock has been an underlying influence for many albums now but here this genre receives the royal treatment. After listening to this album for several years, I can say that this album is many things, and its title is appropriate: It is by far Opeth at their most challenging and adventurous. It is also one of their most inspired albums. It is definitely in my top five Opeth albums. And it is the first album I reach for when I want a unique musical adventure. It is the last Opeth album with death metal and growls. And it features their most progressive form of death metal. And finally, I simply love and admire it more with every passing year. Don't let the initial shock, confusion and extreme variety of sounds and styles throw you off, or the fact that it generally progresses from harsh to soft. The warped avant-garde ambient sounds between songs can get annoying, but somehow even this ties in with the no-limits musical adventure that is this album. A challenging, rich, inspired, vastly enjoyable masterpiece that drowns out its flaws with its brilliance. Invest in it.
Concert At The Royal Albert Hall
(Roadrunner - 2010)
Lamentations disappointed, Roundhouse was very good but not great, but this live album is the real deal. For starters it is almost three hours long. The set-list is everything a fan could wish for: The complete Blackwater Park album which is an undeniable perfect classic, every song a hit, and then one track from each album in their repertoire, almost each one of them a superb selection. The mix is superb, the huge hall adds great acoustics and ambience, the musicianship is flawless, and the new band members and Mikael add subtle tweaks to the songs, upgrading them with a crisp fresh sound, bringing them alive like never before. Mikael's vocals are still very good, but slightly flawed in that they are at times more rasp than growl this time, as if the three-hour set made him pace himself, or he is losing his oomph. But this is a minor observation and in general, he shines here. Strangely, he saves all of his banter for the second set only, presumably to deliver the whole of Blackwater Park without a break. In short, if you are looking for the one Opeth live album covering their first 20 years, this is it.
(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, soft and moody mode, but Opeth with full musical energy, except that it's all being channeled into prog rock this time. Of course, this doesn't mean that the songs are going to be as intense and dark, but they are as interesting, enjoyable and well written. The compositions, are as avant-garde, rich, experimental and challenging as Watershed was, and they, too, become more soft and out-there over the course of the album. 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, this is adventurous stuff and sometimes (especially in 'Haxprocess' and 'Famine'), it can meander and get pretty atmospheric and strange. But, like Watershed, the majority of songs and arrangements here are inspired, rich and even astounding, beautiful and fascinating compositions that can only grow on you over many years. Truth is, I was ready to call this album a masterpiece on first listen, except I was having trouble with some of the more meandering compositions in the second half. This may sound weird, but some melodic musical lines and chords backed by an emphasis on meandering ambience and musical narratives or journeys made me think of Morningrise, as if the Opeth of the 90s had suddenly been rematerialized as an experimental prog-rock band. But even these latter troublesome tracks grew on me, just like Watershed did. 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 or blasting metal energy. Most of the compositions here are unique, strong and fascinating, but I have a weak spot for 'Folklore' with its hauntingly atmospheric first half and its euphoric Genesis and Goblin second half. I also greatly enjoyed the Morningrise-esque riffing in the powerful but short 'The Lines in My Hand', and the strange rhythms in 'Nepenthe' really get me going. 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 of Opethian dark soundscapes with the 70s. As for me, this has turned out to be the best of the prog-rock Opeth albums even many years and many Opeth albums later. Probably because it still shows Opeth in full mad-genius inspiration mode as with Watershed, and also because this prog-rock still has metal influences hovering in the background, rather than the later albums that are more retro and pure rock. I quickly added this one to my top five Opeth albums, each one of them a best-of from a different period and style (Orchid, My Arms, Blackwater Park, Watershed and Heritage). Highly recommended.
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 relatively more melodic and lush 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 last but not least, the saddest and most beautiful song Opeth has ever written: 'Faith in Others'. Overall, it's a good album for people like me that miss the adventurous spirit and organic sound of 70s classic and 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. The first three tracks and the last one are superb, but the middle four are relatively less interesting and memorable, though even these grow on you in terms of enjoyment. It's a good album, but Opeth can be more powerful than this, even when it does prog-rock.
(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 self-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 the king of the last three softer albums.
Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre
(Moderbolaget Records - 2018)
As with many aging bands, Opeth seem to be releasing just as many live albums as studio albums now. There were three reviewed earlier, as well as two minor live albums: "The Devil's Orchard Live at Rock Hard Festival" and "Live in Plovdiv". This one features Opeth in a massive outdoor amphitheatre, covering mostly the later-year songs, especially from Sorceress. Except there are also four growling metal tracks, one from Watershed, another from My Arms, Your Hearse, but, surprisingly, none from Blackwater Park (and obviously nothing from earlier albums). For that period, I suppose they covered all that well enough with the previous releases. In any case, it seems that no matter how much Mikael declares and strays from his earlier albums and styles, he is unable to drop them completely from his set-lists, as is evident from the four tracks here. Except that his metal vocals have definitely deteriorated, and have lost their clean powerful growl, sounding more like strained grunts this time. Which doesn't do any favors for these earlier tracks, musicianship notwithstanding. The other songs are covered nicely, but way too politely. Despite the massive open-air setting and crowd, the songs are simply delivered professionally, but add nothing to them, even slowing them down a bit. All of which means that this album is definitely non-essential, even skippable.
In Cauda Venenum
(Moderbolaget Records - 2019)
Opeth continue to experiment, incorporating numerous and various 70s sounds without losing the darker Opeth guitar-driven sound, creating dark progressive compositions, soundscapes, experiences and outings of dark prog-rock beauty. As with Pale Communion, this one feels more polished and contains smoother prog-rock rather than the more experimental Heritage or the harder Sorceress. It even has many moments of delicate brooding melody that bring to mind Damnation. There is relatively more use of synths, choirs, harmonic vocals, smoother transitions, flowing tunes and structure, and ambient sounds, all of which make this sound relatively more cohesive, softer and more about dark melodies and moods, rather than about harder edged prog-rock. There is still just the right amount of guitar, darkness and hard-driving rock though. The sound primarily brings to mind Porcupine Tree, and darker Uriah Heep, Camel and Pink Floyd, and some Soundgarden moments. Once again, as with the last three albums, this is all merely a description of the dominant sound, and it will take several listens to tune in to the wide variety of tracks and segments. There are even a couple of electronica moments straight from Tangerine Dream, some mood-setting atmospheric sounds and recorded voices, symphonics and choirs, and some jazz. Besides the unique creations and the different dominant sound described above, what stands out this time around is the increased cohesiveness of the compositions, employing relatively more flowing dynamics and consistent mood rather than the many abrupt compositional shifts of yesteryear. Stand-outs include the strikingly edgy 'Charlatan' that brings to mind a lighter 'Lotus Eater', and which ends with a lovely, magical and chilling conversation with an imaginative young girl about gods and death. 'The Garroter' is wonderfully avant-garde and musical bringing to mind 3rd and the Mortal. 'Lovelorn Crime' is the melodious 'Burden' of this album only prettier, and 'Universal Truth' also delivers another pleasantly melodious composition. Tracks 2 and 3 are much heavier and are very good, especially 'Heart in Hand', but it's the unusual and powerful (and beautiful) arrangements in 'Next of Kin', 'Garroter', and 'Charlatan' that really stick in my mind. The last two tracks are relatively less interesting (one of them sounding like Alice in Chains at times), generally slow and heavy, and meander a lot, but they are still good, and the album does end on a high note. In short, like all of Opeth's recent albums this grew on me, only faster than most, since it is also much more accessible and delivers an amazing amount of beautiful and strong melodies and compositions. Which makes this one less challenging and rocking, but highly enjoyable. And finally, the release contains two CDs with identical songs, except with different vocal tracks, one in Swedish and the other in English. It's interesting to compare what the language does to the songs, and how the different cadence contributes to the music. Although Swedish is more musical and generally softer, I find myself preferring the cadence of English for this kind of stuff for some reason (not because I can understand the lyrics). As opposed to the masses out there, I rank this album high amongst the prog-rock Opeth albums, but for very different reasons than Heritage. This album as has grown on me very nicely indeed and I play it often. It's simply so well-written, rich, lushly melodious, dark and enjoyable.

The Last Exit 1996-

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