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Straightforward, dense, and haunting - 100%

bkuettel, December 6th, 2015

It was Jonas Renkse of Katatonia who first proposed the idea of a double album for Opeth’s next endeavor. They had just completed magnum opus Blackwater Park, and guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt was eager to get to his next project. While initially wanting to write something heavier than previous releases, he also had an abundance of mellower, jazzier material that he didn’t want to go to waste. Excited at the prospect of a double album, Åkerfeldt had to bend the truth to the record label to get his project the green light. The idea was to make an album of light progressive rock and one comprised of heavier material, the heaviest they had ever done. Riding on the success of their previous four masterpieces, this sounded like it had the potential to be their most accomplished and inspired project yet. What resulted was a recording process so disorganized and stressful that the band members almost quit music entirely. In the end, it was decided that both albums would be released five months apart. Deliverance would be darker and heavier, while Damnation would be a mellow prog rock affair. Two sides of the same coin, both complement each other and expertly display the opposing personalities of Opeth’s sound while acting as a departure from the layered musical stylings of previous efforts.

The most immediately impressive aspect of Deliverance is the drumming of Martin Lopez. Despite Opeth scaling back the diversity and ambition of past releases, Lopez manages to go all out in speed and ferocity while avoiding dominating the spotlight. A tumbling drum roll kicks off album opener “Wreath” into a bewilderingly fast metal number containing furious metal riffing over pounding drums and dissonant interludes. Gone are the doomy soundscapes and jazzy influences of previous releases. Deliverance is all about the speed and the metal, but it wouldn’t be Opeth without the lighter sections. “Master’s Apprentices” contains a beautifully pensive middle section with melodic guitar taking the spotlight alongside Åkerfeldt’s melodic singing. The middle section of “Deliverance” is similar, making use of drummer Lopez’s loose drumming style and off kilter beats before exploding into a shredding guitar solo section similar to “Wreath.” Among the most profound and emotive moments of Deliverance is the unsettling quiet section right before the crushingly heavy outro. Twin acoustic guitars strum riffs and chords, playing off of each other over more of Lopez’s fill-heavy drumming. Åkerfeldt gives one of his most menacingly subtle vocal performances, softly delivering the lines “Deliverance, thrown back at me. Deliverance, laughing at me.” It’s a perfect display of Opeth once again conveying emotion and grabbing the listener’s attention by taking a sharp departure from what was expected.

Lyrical themes largely revolve around loss, regret, and death. Epic ballad “A Fair Judgement” includes dissonant guitar chords and leads with heartbreaking prose and imagery, “Losing sleep, in too deep. Fading sun, what have I done? Came so close, to what I need most, nothing's left here. Cut the ties, uncover disguise… Soul sacrifice, forgot the advice. Lost track of time, in a flurry of smoke. Waiting anxiety, for a fair judgement deserved.” After a quiet vocal and piano duet with Åkerfeldt heartbreakingly crooning of redemption and regret, Opeth once again pull the rug from under the listener with one of the heaviest and most dissonant outros of the album. A beautiful interplay of acoustic and electric guitar follows in the form of “For Absent Friends.” The short but sweet ballad serves as a much needed reprieve from the more intense, discordant moments of before.

What ultimately makes Deliverance such a success is the interplay of different musical stylings and dynamics in a more concise fashion. Never before have Opeth’s flirtations with light and dark played off each so successfully and consistently. The light section of “Masters Apprentices” becomes an album highlight when sandwiched between the death metal intro and crushingly heavy finale. The diversity and relentless tonal shifts of past releases are refined into a calculated and straightforward dichotomy of beautiful melodies interplaying with brutal heaviness. As a result, the songwriting is more digestible and gripping overall. The title track and “Masters Apprentices” contain enough twists and turns to keep the listener interested, while straightforward metal numbers like “Wreath” and “By The Pain I See In Others” exhaust every trick Åkerfeldt and co. have up their sleeves to keep the 10+ minute epics interesting. Not a single moment is wasted in the whole hour, and by the time the final piano note of “By The Pain…” fades into silence, you will be floored by the truly exhausting listen, containing elements of light, dark, and everything in between.