Artist: Opeth (http://www.opeth.com)
Album: Ghost Reveries
Release Date: August 30th, 2005
Recommended Tracks: Ghost Of Perdition, The Baying Of The Hounds, Beneath The Mire, Reverie/Harlequin Forest, The Grand Conjuration
In 1995 a quartet of young lanky Swedes calling themselves Opeth turned the metal world upside down with one of the most original and epic debuts by a band ever recorded with their first album, Orchid. Rarely had a band ever made such a bold and stunning statement about their bleak musical vision with their first album and sticking to it for years afterward, setting the bar impossibly high for themselves for future albums and placing it well out of reach of the rest of metal. And yet, with each album Opeth seems to build and build on their classic prog/doom/death/10 mins.+ per song formula, constantly tinkering and refining their sound to produce amazing album after album. Their latest offering Ghost Reveries is no exception, as it is a 50 minute-plus tour-de-force of all things Opeth.
Upon a first listen through the album two things become clear - 1. touring keyboardist Per Wiberg (the dude standing in the shadows throughout the whole Lamentations DVD) has now joined the band full time to add a new musical element to the Opethian vibe (and wisely remains in the background of the music rather than overpowering any of the songs with his keyboard), and 2. Mike Akerfeldt's clean voice is much more prominently on display here than in previous albums. This can take some getting used to, and like with most Opeth albums the full force of the majesty of the music isn't really realized until after multiple listens, when your brain and ears can start attempting to wrap themselves around everything that's going on in each song. Opeth albums are like the gift that keeps on giving, as with each new listen you'll hear a riff you didn't hear before, pick up on some drum technique you missed out on last time, find yourself humming along to an organ passage wafting through the background, and so on. Guitarist Peter Lindgren and bassist Martin Mendez effortlessly bounce slick harmonies and beefy riffs off one another, while drummer Martin Lopez produces some of the finest work he's ever done for the band on this album, often times shifting styles and even shifting instruments from drum kits to bongos to tropical-sounding percussion right in the middle of songs. And to revisit the point about Mike's vocals, the emphasis of his clean voice on this album really accentuates how evil his death-growl is in the heavier songs, just as on albums before his more frequently used death growl highlighted the beauty of his clean singing voice. Just like the rest of the band, he is currently a master of his craft right now and shows no signs of slowing down.
You can hear bits and pieces of previous albums, most notably the acoustical work similar to that of Still Life and Damnation and the buzzsaw riffing heard on Blackwater Park. This is no copycat album though, as just like each album before it everything old is new again. Maybe it's because the songs are so long that you can't remember every single bit to all of them so each time you hear new stuff it's like hearing the band again for the first time. Whatever their secret is, Opeth has found a way to sound the same on just about every album yet somehow sound completely new each time. It's kinda similar to the reinvention Madonna goes through every year, but don't look for Opeth to be hopping in the sack for a 3-way with Dennis Rodman and Warren Beatty and wearing pointy bras anytime soon.
Opeth's music possesses a dark, haunting quality that few bands in any genre of music can ever hope to attain. Each song wraps its icy grip around your mind and slowly squeezes the life out of you, bringing you to the brink of sweet merciful death before letting you go and letting you think you will survive, only to rip and tear you to shreds instead. By now you know that Opeth is big on the dark/light contrasts in songs, as each "heavy" song on the album (the recommended tracks listed above) follows the same familiar pattern of slowly building up sickly beautiful harmonic passages up to a ferocious, blistering climax. Where this album differs from previous Opeth albums, however, is each song tends to build up to one big bang of a finish rather than going through several peaks and valleys over the course of the songs. This leads to some downright glorious endings to the songs on this album (the fury contained withing last 2 and a half minutes of "The Baying Of The Hounds", in particular, is among some of the finest work they've ever done), and makes the music much more accessible to both non-Opeth fans waiting to be converted and to the fairweather metal fan in general.
Many people were worried when it was announced Opeth was signing to Roadrunner records, for fear that joining a major label would turn them into sellouts and the next thing you know they've cut off all their hair, started wearing eyeshadow and fingernail polish and dropping Loads on their fans. I am very happy to report that the band sounds just as strong as ever, and figure to be well on their way to their most commercially successful album yet. We metalheads are blessed to be witnessing a rare spectacle in the world today - much like Michael Jordan in basketball, we are getting to witness the run of a band that came into the metal world already at the top of their game and have consistently remained there for years. If you are an Opeth fan this album is a must have for your collection, and even if you aren't it's worth a listen just so you have some ammo to attempt to shoot down your friends when you try and argue with them about why Opeth isn't the greatest band in the world right now. Whether you like them or not, from the time the opening growl kicks in on "Ghost of Perdition" to when the last achingly beautiful note trails off on the closing ballad "Isolation Years" you know you've experienced something incredible and currently without equal in the world of music.
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Artist: Opeth (http://www.opeth.com)