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Beginning with Orchid, Opeth presented a twist in the road, straying from trends and ‘the rule book’ of other Extreme Metal acts at the time to delve farther from musical ‘boundaries’. Opeth has always incorporated punishing riffs, fast drums, and deep roars fused together with mellow acoustic, jazzy solos, and downright amazing clean singing into almost each and every one of their songs. Yet there is one album who would defy the rules yet again, to bring us into a realm of sadness, depression, and a feeling of despair with the overtones of bitterness. Something beautiful, uplifting, mellow and dark at the same time. That something, my readers, is Opeths’ seventh album, Damnation.
As said, Opeth have always incorporated the soft, but they’ve never exploited it to the extent of a whole album. Although quite difficult to label any of their albums, if I had to pick one word to describe Damnation, it would be beautiful. Yet every song is different in at least half a dozen ways; you cannot say soft, because ‘Closure’ is anything but, not heavy because of ‘Hope Leaves’, and certainly not joyful because every song on here is in a dark, gloomy mood. But that does not mean its not uplifting, take the chorus of ‘In My Time of Need’, as soaring as it gets! And thus makes the listener completely awed. This is a great record to connect with, whether you’re lonely, sad, depressed for no reason, or any state of melancholy, and has a great deal of meaning to anyone who remotely feels the way I do about this album.
And what makes this record? Personally, I think it comes down to two people; Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt. Steven has added great elements to this record, things that add the final touch to some songs, such as the vocal harmonies in ‘Windowpane’, the haunting mellotrons in ‘Weakness’, and even wrote the lyrics to ‘Death Whispered a Lullaby’. He also brings the usage of keyboards, which is, I think, an essential part of Damnation, because of their beautiful, blissful sounds. Wilson adds something to almost every song, and it blends perfectly with this style of Opeth. The other man I want to speak about is the band’s frontman and songwriter, Mikael Åkerfeldt. His vocals are absolutely astonishing, vocal ability, range, whatever, this being has it covered. For Damnations’ duration, he uses his clean vocals, and use them he does. He sounds weak, empty, at some songs, perfect with the mood; full and confident in others. This is all intentional, because he wants you to experience how he feels, and he executes perfectly. From staccato verses (‘In My Time of Need’) to legato and impressive drawn-out openers (‘Closure’), you can count on Åkerfeldt for great, talented singing. But its not just his vocals which everyone raves about, it’s also his ability to compose, particularly this album. While all members of Opeth contribute in the songwriting, Mikael does construct the base of the song, and writes some utterly depressing lines of music, such as the opener to ‘Hope Leaves’ and the chorus of ‘To Rid the Disease’, among others.
Talent is not rare in Opeth, and so when dissecting this record we cannot leave without mentioning the Martins. The first one, Martin Lopez, is very technical, no doubt. Even though Damnation might not be as full, rich, or varied as with Opeths’ other albums, where Lopez incorporates both blast-beat speed and heaviness with a jazzy-smooth, soft sound, this one is particularly softer, obviously. However soft, the drums have a great sound, big sound, and Lopez hard-hits his drums when he wants to, giving accents where need be. Present is the technicality Lopez showcases in everything he does, leading the change of the tempo in the song, accurately deriving from a 6/8 beat to another complicated structure of beats. And it works well with the other, Martin Mendez, the bassist. They are one in the same, very tight and structured. You can hear him well, too, as he follows along. His sound is very warm, something that is so different from the rest of the album, yet appreciated and flows precisely anyways.
Peter Lindgren and Mikaels’ guitar duo is exceptional in anything they’ve done, and this is certainty no exception! The tones are mostly cold, nicely fitting in with the sound of the Damnation. Solos are jazzy, and have an endless amount of emotion and power in them, like the first solo in ‘Windowpane’ or the guitar harmonizing in ‘Ending Credits’. But the riffs is what the listener listens for, as they are so fit and neat, sonically pleasant, yet so aurally sad at most times. And I haven’t heard the slightest bit of recycling, all of it is inspiring and different, no doubt branching off from Mikaels mind. I mean, listen to the acoustic in ‘Closure’, the flow is ingenious! And what Mikael creates, Peter might have perfected, as aforementioned that all members are free to contribute in Opeth. Another piece of the album that most be noticed is the lyrics. Some of Mikaels most personal insights are displayed here, and in a combination of his singing, the effect is invaluable to a point where the only way to get it back is to keep coming and listening again and again. Suicide, loneliness, despair, just about anything self-wallowing is expressed here, and sometimes greater stories are told within the lines, you just have to find it. Yet the lyrics don’t have to be anything, you can find connections within your own life so that they make sense for you, and that takes some heart from the lyricalist.
So here you have it: Opeths’ most beautiful piece of art. This album is a fusion of the humans’ most deepest, darkest feelings, translated into a marvelous eight songs which any fan of Opeth should have. Its as simple as that, though the album is not so simple at all. Here are the deeper meanings of songs, where you can find something more than just a lyric, a chord, a note, or a beat…here is Damnation.
Originally written for sputnikmusic.com