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If you've read any reviews for Opeth on this website, you know the spiel. A majority of metalheads mysteriously develop wet spots in their pants when a conversation moves to the topic of this band, and I can't seem to find any reviews that refrain from dropping the band's name into the critique of a metal album that involves acoustic guitars (even if it's in entirely different subgenres)! It's like listening to ninth graders summarize how 1984 was a pretty boring book that was kind of dark and depressing, just like Twilight! In this case, replace “1984” with an excellent dark metal band with longer songs, such as Moonsorrow, who has a completely unrelated sound and topic, and replace “Twilight” with Opeth and you see what I'm getting at.
Blackwater Park is the traditional jump-off point that best summarizes Opeth's sound. I will tell you that I used to be a rabid Opeth fan myself, foaming at the mouth and attempting to spread Opethitis to those around me at any chance that I had. I have a great deal of experience with their discography so the albums have “clicked” with me. But a few years later, with a head much deeper into the metal scene, it is easier to see how this album compares with others. At best it is atmospheric and powerful, but usually it is inconsistent and trivial, and at worse it is boring and devoid of substance.
First off, the instrumentation is certainly good, both Akerfeldt and Lindgren can play the guitar quite well, and Mendez and Lopez really give this album a higher score than it deserves to have. But to what purpose do these skills go?
Let's look at the first two songs. The Leper Affinity is fast, moving along at a blistering pace. Despite the fact that it switches riffs faster than an epileptic kid with ADHD at a rave, it's fairly decent. However, it summarizes the key problem with this album – it goes absolutely nowhere. Despite having a clean part somewhere towards the middle, there is no build up in the album. The only satisfying event during the song is the last riff, which gets cut off right far too soon. The song teases you with buildup, but instead of this, it goes off in a tangential direction and all progress is lost. Bleak is really the only song that gets it right – the initial riffs and chorus set up the atmosphere, the clean part is catchy and meanders through the middle of the song, without managing to upset the delicate ambience created by the heavy sections before. Then the song builds up to a climax before crashing back down again into the chorus. If you were expecting an emotional roller-coaster ride, this is the only one you will really experience.
Here's the problem: the first song is a more thrashy piece set on intensity rather than emotional power. Bleak is set more on having a strong atmosphere than having fast-moving instrumentation. But Opeth tries to fuck around with this and throw atmosphere into their fervently-riffed songs. Then we get stupid shit like the song Blackwater Park, which has a completely pointless, boring, repetitive atmospheric bit in the middle. It's two minutes long and does NOTHING for the rest of the song. Before the little intermission, the song is fast and heavy, then abruptly ends and goes into soft, clean guitars. There are no drums or vocals, just slow, floating guitars. The clean part itself is certainly atmospheric, but it does not belong at all. Right after it ends it goes back into almost completely-unrelated fast, thrashy action. There is no climax, high point to this song. It just goes and goes, the riffs continuously changing and never building, until the song ends. There is little passion or emotion in the entire song, and maybe the clean section was thrown in to help rectify that, but all it does to the song is make me have to dig out my mp3 player and fast-forward it.
The are other really shitty songs. The Drapery Falls is one of Opeth's most popular songs, and I honestly cannot see why. It seems like a rip-off of Bleak right from the start, and goes through plenty of clean to heavy changes to no effect. There is no reward, no emotional investment in the arduous journey through singing and growling, acoustic and heavily-distorted guitars. The song just inoffensively runs its course and fades away leaving me feeling slightly more bored than before. The next song, Dirge For November, is one of Opeth's worst songs. You can tell they tried REALLY hard to give it a really thick, crushing atmosphere of despair and desperation. At some points there are three or four guitars tracked over each other. The sadly hilarious result is a song devoid in atmosphere, yet no shortage of listening difficulty. The saddest, darkest parts of the song are the clean sections! Once the drums and distortion kicks in, the sadness drips away.
The remaining two tracks, The Funeral Portrait and Harvest are mediocre. There's not much to say about them. Harvest is at least consistent, and The Funeral Portrait has some pretty memorable riffs. There's nothing that really jumps out about these songs though, or really anything on the album. There's also a filler track towards the end that is one of Opeth's many throwaway tracks.
So when I say it's inoffensive, I mean it. There's little emotion or atmosphere, just some different riffs that flow in and out of each other, different unmemorable songs that start and end, and overall just an album you can put on if you want to go to sleep. It's not overly bad, it's just boring and mediocre. It had its good and bad moments but none of the good moments keep me coming back.