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To start off, I must say that I did not always like this band. I used to think of them as boring. I even saw them in concert and still thought their music was boring.
Then one day, I decided to give some of their music a chance - and it just clicked. The specific song was Forest of October from their album Orchid. I was extremely impressed at how the band was able to compose this grand canvas of intertwining guitars and bass and how it all, despite the huge size of the song, formed a massive, coherent, wonderful, yet at the same time dark and bleak picture.
This was the standard I measured this album to when I first got it. I was not disappointed - although the album isn't really perfect for some reasons. These reasons are the fact that some parts of the songs are boring - yes, boring. Gasp, you say. Truth, I maintain. For example, the first song of the album, The Leper Affinity, starts with boring, uninspiring guitar riffs. Some of the riffs in the song Blackwater Park seem to be the "filler" kind and the song The Funeral Portrait has absolutely no hooks whatsoever...which brings me to my next point.
Another bad thing about this album (about most of Opeth's music too) is inaccessibility. One cannot just pop an Opeth album in their discman and just listen to it for fun. Well, one can, but it just sucks when you've got only a five minute break (or less) and the songs are all more than 9 minutes save for a couple... Opeth songs are more experiences than songs - only by listening to the whole thing can one truly come to like an Opeth song. For the uninitiated, listening to an album several times may be a pre-requisite to liking it.
That said, the good points must now be highlighted, for they are legion. As this review's title suggests, the beauty of Opeth is mostly in the compositions. The sheer creativity of some songs is somewhat hard to swallow. Let me illustrate this point with an example: the song The Drapery Falls. The song starts with soft, fairly simple accoustic chords...then the other instruments kick in. I can only close my eyes in silent contemplation as my senses are assaulted with myriad amounts of sensations that can only be provoked by three distorted electric guitars, one accoustic guitar, and one bass guitar that are playing different things in perfect harmony. Everything just fits - and fits beautifully. This is what this album's (and this band) about.
Don't be misled by my heavily emotional description of The Drapery Falls. The same kind of thing can provoke all kinds of different emotions in the other songs. For example, while they use the same kind of technique in the song Blackwater Park, one feels like raging and headbanging rather than closing eyes. It all works perfectly.
Another thing that I like a lot about Opeth is how they use vocals. On one hand you have the heavy growls and on the other you have the soft, clean, melodic, beautiful (I can't stop praising Mikael Akerfeldt's clean vocals - they are the best) singing. The way Akerfeldt switches from one to the other creates a very cool effect - sort of a Jekyll and Hyde thing. Too bad the lyrics (which are pretty average on this album) don't reflect this very much.
Another thing I absolutely love about this album is its sort of thematic. The intricate drawing on the cover suggests a bleak, grey autumn day. The picture of the band in the middle of the booklet shows them standing in a autumnal forest, looking thoughtfully. Every song is bleak, grey, autumnal as well - you will find no happiness listening to Opeth. The lyrics sometimes reflect this but mostly, and unfortunately, fall short.
Having said all this, I highly recommend that everyone listen to this album at least several times before judging it too harshly. I also highly recommend it to anyone vaguely interested in progressive music - as well as anyone vaguely interested in music...