KOCH Records, 2001
I once had the strange idea that death metal was the most extreme form of music, beyond thrash metal in its inaccessibility. But Opeth are relatively cuddly. It's those grunting, growling vocals of course, with mannerisms such as the "uuugh" that introduces the final track of this album, that give people the willies about the genre. But I've developed a respect for singers, such as Mikael Åkerfeldt here, who not only have the endurance for that kind of throat treatment, but can switch so cleanly to a regular lyrical style of rock singing.
Opeth play "progressive" death metal. That's as good a word as any to describe their skills at song structuring and dynamic control, with frequent stylistic shifting and dark/light loud/soft contrasts. Solid crunchy metal riffing, with hi-hat-heavy drums, is the backbone of their sound. Equally they do a lovely line in ballad-like sections with conventional "melodic" singing, muscular rock acoustic guitars, and eerie ambient passages on solo piano. Their playing strikes just the right balance of an engaging variety and avoiding Dream Theater-style over-indulgence.
I arrived at this album through its major contribution from Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson, behind the production boards and on guitar. Its crisp layering of various guitar sounds has Wilson's signature all over, especially that super-sustained liquid squirm. The lush strumming harmonies of the most "normal" rock track, the almost single-worthy "Harvest", could almost have come from a Porcupine Tree album. Huge, sweeping melodies like the anthemic chorus of "Bleak" and the refrains of "Drapery Falls" and "Dirge for November" should appeal to fans of symphonic prog rock. I haven't the knowledge to judge this in relation to the genre of death metal, but it's at least pretty accomplished rock music.
October 22, 2005