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Dense and disorienting - 85%

gasmask_colostomy, May 4th, 2015

I think that any fan of Opeth should easily be able to choose a favourite album by the band. I know that they have a similar style throughout their career, with some gradual changes, but there is also a distinct "feel" to each album that stands out when lined up shoulder to shoulder with the others. This may have something to do with Opeth's frequent use of concepts or themes that tie their albums together, since I identify Still Life as the tragic album, Orchid as the outdoor nature album, and Ghost Reveries as the memories album, for example. It's for this reason that Deliverance certainly isn't my favourite Opeth album, because I can't identify an exact thread running through the songs on it. Maybe, going by the lyrics and artwork, there's a kind of haunted or guilty presence at work, though that doesn't come across distinctly when I listen to the whole thing.

What I can say, though, is that Deliverance becomes impenetrable as a result of its ambiguity. Opeth riffs and song structures traditionally twist and turn as if attempting to shake off imitators; however, most of the songs here are almost maze-like in their difficulty and hallucinatory in their switches of direction, so that the listening experience is disorienting and occasionally uncomfortable. I didn't especially notice it until I started to write this review, but I realise now that I don't know Deliverance very well despite having owned it for several years and listened to it frequently. By that I mean that I recognise the music, I can even sing some of the lyrics, but I can't really remember what happens next - the album has remained unpredictable. Maybe this is just my problem? The whole thing plays out like a dream, where some things strike me as intensely familiar yet altogether strange.

Certainly, the first 3 songs are the best on the album. 'Wreath' sets out the band's stall with some signature riffs - the one that spirals and judders, then the one that ascends and elevates - that are uncanny in many ways, as if this song were the blueprint that the group had built every other song from. It isn't until almost 10 minutes in that the first acoustic break crops up, which is perhaps what lends these songs their apparent complexity and labyrinthine nature. The supposed purpose of Deliverance was to be an album showcasing the heavier aspects of Opeth's sound (whereas Damnation showed the lighter parts), so the lack of acoustic and folk influence makes sense; however, it also means that the album has ended up far, far denser than any other Opeth release, because the regular acoustic interludes usually make the music feel airy and open, whereas a song like 'Wreath' remains oppressive and claustrophobic almost from start to finish. The title track is similarly stifling, with the exception of its gently soaring refrain. The soloing on the first 2 tracks is extremely aggressive for Opeth and lightens the mood not a jot, actually crushing down on the listener all the more, especially when the ultra-emphasized Phrygian solo is whipped out after 4 minutes of the title track.

The concluding 'Master's Apprentices' and 'By the Pain I See in Others' follow a similar technique to the claustrophobic beginning, but the middle of the album bears a different mark. 'A Fair Judgement' is a far frailer song, incredibly spacious in its first half, as sparse piano verses tease out Mikael Akerfeldt's most delicate vocals of the album and a circling minor chord riff bridges the gap between them. The second half is given over to delightfully picturesque melodic soloing and a hulking doom riff that brings the door to freedom crashing closed. 'For Absent Friends' is a short instrumental, which - though by no means bad - could have been omitted to enhance the atmospheric quality of the haunted house/summer garden/haunted house structure of the album.

I don't have a great to deal to say about the instrumentalists that I haven't already mentioned. I believe that Akerfeldt was working very hard when the band made this album, recording Deliverance and Damnation simultaneously and having to deal with almost all of the songwriting himself. It certainly shows, since there is a more consistent sound here than on any other single Opeth album, with 3 or 4 main types of riff, a very broad and flat-edged guitar tone, and few lead melodies or interludes, though a fair smattering of solos. The drums are similarly blunt and aggressive, Martin Lopez occasionally being able to expand into a more conventional death metal style, such as on the staccato riffs of the closing track, although his role is probably the most flexible on the album. Bass presence is minor, yet pops up to add eerie texture to some of the slower parts, like the end of 'A Fair Judgement'. Akerfeldt's vocals are, regrettably, not as good as one might expect, with little variation or additional emotion.

My comments on Deliverance might seem decidedly mixed, but for all that I claim about the weird and disorienting nature of its songs, it's a great album and free of some of the clich├ęs and stop-start troubles that plague a few of the other releases. I still don't think it's my favourite Opeth release, though it's a consistently surprising album, and can you really beat that?