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Thye first 30-odd seconds of Opeth's Blackwater Park aren't a riff, a solo, not even a vocal line. It's a single sound that builds up right before it bursts into an energetic, incredibly heavy song that sets the stage for one of Opeth's finest listening experiences. This progressive outfit has pumped out very high-quality extreme progressive metal albums like Still Life and My Arms, Your Hearse, and Blackwater Park is no different – a very high-quality extreme progressive metal album.
The first thing you'll notice when you listen to Blackwater Park is that the sound is much better than that of previous albums. No longer do you hear any channel drop-outs or inaudible bass lines – the sound in Blackwater Park is superb through and through, and that's not only in terms of technical quality of mixing and mastering, it's also about the soundscape of the music itself. With the help of Porcupine Tree leader Steven Wilson (who contributes production, backup vocals and even some solos), Opeth displays here some of its aurally-finest tunes ever, with a lot of great backup vocals, unique sounds and some grand piano played for extra emotion. Beyond the clear sound of the album, the MUSIC is rich in atmosphere and variety.
You'll hear some great touches in the music here. "Bleak" has a slightly Arabian feel to it that changes into an stunning segment that shows off Opeth's talent in creating seamless transitions between heavy playing and soft, soothing singing in large thanks to Mikael Åkerfeldt's beautiful voice. "The Drapery Falls", another album highlight, contains only clean vocals for about four minutes before erupting into an evil rush that introduces us to a passage of weird drums and guitars that are truly psychedelic. "The Funeral Portrait" has Åkerfeldt and Lidgren switching roles soloing, "Harvest" is probably the band's best, most melodic effort to the point of the album's release and album closer, "Blackwater Park", continues Bleak's middle-eastern theme and closes the album in an all-heavy, no-clean-vocals burst of energy and makes the experience go out with a bang.
As good as all the songs are, there is one song that's worthy of special mention. This song is "The Leper Affinity". The opening track of an album must do a good job of capturing the listener's attention and setting the stage for the rest of the album, and that's exactly what Leper does. It's built of amazingly heavy riffs and a lot of transitions, and it seems to flow better than just about any other Opeth song to date. What's extra impressive is the lyrical idea, which handles murder, love, death and love-making. Quite a poetic effort made all the more awesome thanks to excellent instrumentation.
So yes, Blackwater Park has everything an Opeth fan could ask for – highly progressive songs with excellent riffs and solos, audible bass and of course, amazing drumming in the hands of Martin Lopez. It does have its week points, namely an unnecessary instrumental bit and a slightly stretched-out tune called "Dirge for November". Dirge is unfortunate because up until its very end, it's a very impressive song, but it seems Åkerfeldt took it too far expending the song. Two minutes shorter and it could have been a real classic.
If you're a fan of Opeth or progressive metal at all, then by all means buy Blackwater Park. Mikael Åkerfeldt's amazing songwriting abilities and technical execution, both mellow and extreme, are at their finest here, and while it might not be as good as Still Life, it comes very, very close to it. Two thumbs up to Opeth for pumping out another amazing record.