Does It Hold Up: Opeth Edition
Posted by RiffRaff
I thought I’d try to do something new here. Since I’ve become a curmudgeon of an old grandpa with new music lately and have been spending my time enjoying the metric fuckton of music I’ve accumulated over the years I thought it would be a good idea to revisit some of the more historied bands catalogs and see how they hold up years later now that the hype and initial impact is gone. I’ll be looking at how often I’ve found myself revisiting the records, which songs/albums may have lost me or grown on me, if an album has been rendered obsolete by the artists later works, etc.
Today I’ll be taking the easy route and looking at one of my all time favorite bands, Opeth, and seeing how they hold up in the decade plus amount of time I’ve been following the band (they pretty much all do). Enjoy!!!! Peace Love and Metal!!!!
Orchid – 1995
Does Opeth’s debut album hold up? In a way yes and no. I find that Orchid has been one of my least revisited Opeth records and I blame that on the fact I find the songs a bit to lengthy for their own good. Later down the line Mikael and Co. really refined the art of making marathon tracks that endlessly engage me, but here I find myself drifting away all to often. That’s not to say there are some really great parts on the album. ‘In the Mist She Was Standing There’ has a lot of bouts of great riffing, I love the Gothic/kinda Vaudevillian piano interlude of ‘Silhouette’, and ‘Forest of October’ is a track that has really grown on me over the years and always maintains a spot on my ‘Best of Opeth’ playlists. One of my biggest turn-offs to the album (and the preceding 2) comes a lot from the production end. The sound lacks the deep, full oomph that Still Life and onwards has and the guitar and drum tones feel rather hollow.
Morningrise – 1996
This album pisses me off so much. Not because it is bad by any means, but there is a single annoyance that ruins nearly the entire album for me. That would be the choice in bass tone. Instead of the deep, rolling tone of the other albums there is this bright and punchy Steve Harris sound to it and instead working to blend all the music together. I just find it really jarring. However, holy fuck is the songwriting outstanding on the album. Nearly every track is written to completely engage, until that god damn bass ruins it all. Despite the bass tone I do often find myself forcing myself to try to overlook that flaw and enjoy some absolutely outstanding musical compositions. ‘Advent’, ‘Nectar’, and ‘Black Rose Immortal’ are among Opeth’s best and ‘To Bid You Farewell’ is easily one of the best songs that Opeth has ever written and is essential to anyone with a fleeting interest in the band.
Dear Opeth, Please re-record or play in entirety live so I can have a flawless masterpiece in my hands.
My Arms, Your Hearse – 1998
And here we have Opeth’s first full on concept album which is about an Opeth-ian mainstay of demonic possession. This album really grew on me over the years and would say it’s one of the albums that holds up the strongest. While not outstanding, the quality of production took a step up (probably because the band had a couple of nickels to now rub together) and the songwriting remained as solid as it did on Morningrise even if it wasn’t as strong. One thing that really helps this album is the improvement of Mikael’s growls on the album moving closer to his classic death metal thunder instead of the more black metal like sound on the previous pair. Also, that damned annoying bass tone is gone on MA,YH so the album is much easier for me to get sucked into without something pulling me out of my musical nirvana. ‘April Ethereal’, ‘When’, and ‘Demon of the Fall’ are the standout tracks on the album for me. And after seeing them perform it live, ‘Credence’ has gained a new-found attention from me really started to become one of my all time favorite Opeth songs.
Still Life – 1999
For many years, if you asked me what my favorite Opeth album was I would say Ghost Reveries. Now, after years of digesting the bands catalog, without a doubt Still Life is now held in my regard as what I would call the single best Opeth album. A definite grower this record just keeps getting spin after spin and nearly every note carries weight that just enhances all the nuances of this perfectly crafted album. The production levels are now through the roof in comparison to the initial 3 albums and musicians performance is at top-level. And then there’s the absolutely perfect songwriting where not even for a millisecond I am not completely absorbed by every moment of any given song. One of my favorite things of the record is how the songwriting went from a kind of choppy heavy/mellow/heavy/mellow pattern to a much more organic flow which would define Opeth’s well-known style. And I love how well the music ties into the narrative during its different scenes and emotions.
Every song on this album is essential Opeth and I consider Still Life required listening for any metal or progressive music fan. My all time favorite Opeth track, ‘Moonlapse Vertigo’, also lives on this record, so there’s that too.
Blackwater Park – 2001
Often considered the quintessential Opeth album, this one took me a while to get into. I picked it up in the early 2000s based on its hype, enjoyed it, but never found myself really returning to it in the later years. Then after falling head over heels for Ghost Reveries I ended up revisiting it and discovering a reignited love for the record. While I still highly enjoy BWP, I would not consider it a higher recommendation over Still Life, Ghost Reveries, and Damnation/Deliverance. The technical prowess of the performances took a big step up but I feel that the impeccable flow and immediacy of Still Life was lost a tad as some tracks seem to meander a bit to often. Anywho, classic, must listen Opeth. Standout tracks: ‘Bleak’, ‘Harvest’, ‘The Drapery Falls’, and ‘Blackwater Park’.
Deliverance/Damnation – 2002/2003
While released a year apart yet recorded in tandem, I consider these 2 albums one in the same. They show that duality that Opeth are known for in a much different way. Deliverance contained some of the heaviest, and most brutal music Opeth has ever written and on the flip side, Damnation is a purely chill-out affair without nary a growl in earshot. Having each disc focus on a single side of the band really cues you in at how strong an all-round songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt is. I tend to lean towards Damnation as my disc of choice, but only slightly. Over the years the true heaviness of Deliverance has come to rear its teeth even more-so and on tracks like ‘A Fair Judgement’ you can really hear how Opeth have mastered the art being crushingly heavy without resorting to blistering tempos and growly vocals. If anything these 2 albums are a perfect lesson in creating atmosphere and mood and I can’t recommend the highly enough.
Favorite tracks: Deliverance: ‘Deliverance’, ‘A Fair Judgement’, ‘Master’s Apprentice’; Damnation: ‘Windowpane’, ‘Death Whispered a Lullaby’, ‘Closing Credits’
Ghost Reveries – 2005
This is pretty much the album that completely sucked me into the world of Opeth. Near perfect on every level, the only complaint I can make after hundreds upon of hundreds of spins is it does meander a bit during the more mellow passages. But that is only minimal. Ghost Reveries is a fucking beast and also introduced a new element to the Opeth arsenal with Per Wiberg on keyboards. His presence adds so much to the music. The grooves are thicker, the moods are more nuanced, and each track oozes with atmosphere previous unheard on other albums. While Still Life and it’s anal tight immediacy and flow have won me over the years, Ghost Reveries still remains one of my most revisited Opeth albums, if not the most listened to album I own. Between the bluesyness of ‘The Baying of the Hounds’, the groove of ‘Beneath the Mire’, the classical music minded genius of ‘Harlequin Forest’, and pure terror of ‘The Grand Conjuration’ this album has it all. Essential listening and most definitely holds up strong many years and spins after its release. If you don’t own this album you are a horrible metal head.
Watershed – 2008
This is an odd album that has grown on me in an odd way. After coming off the Ghost Reveries high I was slightly let down by Watershed and for a few years it didn’t get the attention it deserved. But after time it grew on me, more specifically the top half did. From the opener ‘Coil’ to sixth track ‘Porcelain Heart’, Watershed is outstanding Opeth. But the final pair of tracks fail to really catch me and therefore I find myself turning the album after the final notes of ‘Porcelain Heart’. When listening to the final pair of tracks individually they are fairly decent, but after such a strong top and middle, the fact that the record ends anticlimactically really irks me. Yes, I hold Opeth to insanely high standards, but imo it’s only right. And with such excellence I expect to be led away with a bang.
Since I did find myself listening to Watershed more as time went on, I think it will hold up, but will never reach the heights of Still Life or Ghost Reveries. Anywho, holy hot hell, the ‘Coil’/’Heir Apparent’ combo is wicked sick and easily one of my favorite Opeth songs.
Heritage – 2011
Boy did this album piss people off. Delving down a more prog rock sound, Heritage is the least Opeth-ian of Opeth’s albums. I’m in the camp that has a favorable opinion on the record, but will say I’m prone to listen to many more of their other albums before deciding to pop this one in. Lacking the extremeness of their previous albums (barring Damnation) and a strong nod to the 60s and 70s I wouldn’t recommend Heritage to those looking to get into Opeth as a metal band. If you’re into the more prog minded side of Opeth, then you should love this however.
A few years after its release I would say it’s holding up just ok. There are some tracks like ‘I Feel the Dark’, ‘Nepenthe’, ‘The Lines in My Hand’, and ‘Famine’ that I absolutely love, and the rest I can only say they’re only pretty good. Like I said, I hold Opeth to higher standards. It was interesting to see Opeth delve into new directions and wouldn’t fault them for doing so more often in the future.