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Reviewing an Opeth album is a challenging task because all Opeth albums (discluding Damnation) suffer from the same weaknesses and excel from the same strengths. Blackwater Park, the first and most conventional of the three Steven Wilson-produced Opeth records, is a compelling listen because it sports the same strengths that all other Opeth albums have but also expands upon them.
The production here is the best the band has ever seen. The guitar riffs are still muddy and the acoustics are still a little thin, but the output’s atmosphere has been enhanced tremendously by Wilson, who also contributes piano, keyboard, and vocal parts to the record. Each element that he adds to the album’s final product is subtle, but relevant, and greatly broadens the breadth of Blackwater Park’s thick, kinetic tone.
Mikael Akerfeldt’s vocals on the recording are consistently excellent. While Akerfeldt has always shown a penchant for marrying the ugly and the beautiful, Blackwater Park sees the band’s frontman captivating the listener like never before. His clean vocals in the middle of “Bleak” are a major player in what is perhaps the band’s best melodic middle section, and his cries throughout “Harvest” are lovely and endearing. Not much needs to be said pertaining to Akerfeldt’s growls, which are deep and forceful here just as they were on Still Life.
Opener “The Lepper Affinity” is the best song on the album, its endless spurts of riffage somehow finding a way to stay interesting despite the fact that the song is a couple of minutes too long. “The Funeral Portrait” is another personal favorite, the composition boasting less ideas than your average Opeth sledge and instead opting to revolve around a narrower, more focused blueprint.
Blackwater Park’s most prominent flaw is that each song on the album has detrimental qualities. No track on the record (save for “Patterns in the Ivy”, but that one’s real short) is without one too many riffs or vocal passages, the most egregious supporter of my argument being the disc’s title track which wastes three minutes during its first half repeating a quiet guitar theme before trying to redeem itself by getting all heavy again.
The combined length of the songs on the record is another one of the album’s downfalls. I’m all for long compositions, but when nearly every track clocks in at around ten minutes, listening to the disc in one sitting is nearly impossible. Often Blackwater Park makes me want to skip certain tracks or forward through certain sections entirely, which isn’t an admirable quality. I am of the firm belief that no parts of an album should need to be skipped to be liked; rather, a work should be able to be appreciated in its whole form as opposed to the dissolution of its parts.
What we have here is the type of CD that resonates with the listener despite the fact that he might not wholeheartedly accept it at first. It took many listens for me to appreciate Blackwater Park, and even more listens to enjoy it. The album is a notable effort from one of metal’s most loved (or hated) acts that showcases them at the height of their powers. It is both a logical introduction to the Opeth brand as well as a prominent addition to their discography.
© Kevin Martell (TheOutlawXanadu)