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Opeth deliver on their heaviest release - 85%

Tea_and_Crumpets, January 15th, 2009

After releasing their landmark ‘Blackwater Park’ CD, Opeth had finally realised their sound to its full extent. What had been birthed on ‘Orchid’, peaked on ‘Still Life’ and refined on ‘Blackwater Park’ was finally complete. Opeth had realised this, and like most bands reaching this stage of their career were presented with two options. Either continue to put out releases in the vein of their landmark release, with very few alterations and continue to gradually evolve their sound(see Amon Amarth), or experiment with the template sound on their big release, or perhaps even a third option of a whole new track of thought moving away from their earlier work (often translated as selling out). ‘Deliverance’ with its co-released ‘Damnation’ (both recorded and produced together) acts as a prime example of the 2nd of these choices.

The big idea for this release was to take Opeth’s brand of soft acoustic passages combined with extreme metal (the combination of which had come to define the band’s sound), and split the two parts to create a double album. Although Opeth’s label insisted on both albums being released separately rather than as a double CD (no doubt in order to get more money) this idea was achieved, and birthed ‘Deliverance’, Opeth’s heaviest release, and ‘Damnation’, their softest release with almost no metal on it what so ever.

This fundamental division of the soft and heavy parts between the two releases acts as both the biggest flaw and strength this album has. Firstly what’s great about this idea is it allows Opeth to produce one of their most ‘metal’ CD’s and really concentrate on writing music towards the heavier end of their musical spectrum. This means that ‘Deliverance’ is very tight in what it does. However, despite the CD still retaining some softer parts (albeit quite a bit less than other Opeth releases) it loses the clean acoustic guitar segments, has less clean vocals and loses a lot of the brilliant contrast between the soft and harsh parts of the music which had come to define Opeth’s sound.

As well as being ‘heavier’ than past releases the album also has quite a doomy feel about it. Whether this comes from the subtle use of mellotrons or is just part of the atmosphere the music creates at large I’m not sure. What is for certain though is it certainly adds to the release and helps it stand out from Opeth’s other releases as well as create a heavier vibe to the album.

The music is also a fair bit more technical than the norm, and this is most reflected in the drumming. The first track ‘Wreath’ opens with a spectacular roll across the tom’s, followed by a quick grunt from Akerfeldt before some blast beats come slamming in, quite a contrast from the usual light jazzy touch of Lopez. The guitars too seem to lose some of their winding melodies in favour of some sharper more aggressive riffs. All of this acts as a nice change, but will surly disappoint some of Opeth’s fans. Akerfeldt’s vocals also stand out as being a nice improvement over ‘Blackwater Park’, his growls absolutely tearing through the music at times with a nice raspy edge to them with his clean vocals being handled capably as usual.

This release also sees some of Opeth’s most competent song writing despite the length of all the songs spiralling past the ten minute mark (bar the two minute interlude). Many of Opeth’s critics and some of their less ardent fans note Opeth’s transitions between different riffs and parts of songs can be carried out with little finesse. On this release this is scarcely an issue, and the fact there are few acoustic guitar parts means there is often no sudden jump between soft and heavy parts of the music. This is perhaps the most obvious and well noted advantage of losing these segments, and it does pay off, with the songs sounding a lot smoother and better composed. The riffs also stand out as being amongst Opeth’s better material, some making for a really great doomy feel, with others acting as a fast paced shred attack.

Like all of Opeth’s best music the album was recorded at acclaimed Gothenburg producer Fredrik Nordström’s ‘Studio Fredman’. However like their last album ‘Blackwater Park’ the production was again handled by Porcupine Tree’s front man Steve Wilson, and not the studio owner itself. As expected the album ‘sounds’ just like BWP in terms of production and mixing, although as I’ve said throughout my review a fair bit heavier, perhaps thanks to Andy Sneap being in charge of the final mix. Everything blends superbly and Opeth achieves the ideal feel and sound for their music.

Overall while the idea of separating Opeth’s soft and heavy parts seems likes a flawed one, Opeth is able to prove with this release that it does work. Despite the CD losing out on some of the contrast the softer acoustic guitar segments brought to the plate, Opeth is able to create a great album at the heavier end of the spectrum. While not their greatest CD, it is defiantly one worth owning and it proves to be a worthwhile expansion on the Opeth discography in its own right, with some of Opeth’s longest and best written material present. There’s nothing on here to change your mind if you don’t like the band, but for those that do an interesting twist on the classic Opeth sound awaits.