Observing Opeth: A Discography Breakdown

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More discography diving with Boss the Ross.

As you already know, I have started a series in which I take a plunge into a band, swim through their discography and report back to you my findings. The kicker is that it has to be a band I’m not overly familiar with. My inaugural article discussing Enslaved had some positive feedback, and I returned with Behemoth. I am now here to present Opeth to the good people of the Toilet.

Now, many of you may say to yourself “Boss plz! You had to have heard Opeth before!” To which I reply, yes. Yes I have. HOWEVER, ahem, I had only listened to maybe 1/4 of the band’s hefty discography and Old Man Doom thought it would be a good idea. Also, with Opeth’s twelfth album Sorceress coming out on September 30, I believed now to be a good time to catch myself and y’all up with what this band has done in their 26 year history.

Onwards!


Orchid [1995] & Morningrise [1996]

With a simple, graceful cover depicting an orchid, Opeth are introduced to the world.”Unique” is how I would describe this 1995 debut; for the most part Opeth sit in the heavy realm of death but seem to dip their toes ever slightly into black metal’s cold bleakness. One thing is for certain, however. Musically, it gushes prog. The melodically minded structure and meticulous riffing nods directly to what Åkerfeldt described as a hybrid of “Wishbone AshBlack Sabbath and Bathory.” The acoustic folk guitar and piano interludes coupled with the clear vocal patterns were something not overtly utilized in Death Metal at the time and help to discern Opeth from your average band.

Morningrise shows a clear progression for the band; album median “Black Rose Immortal” alone is worthy of high praise. The kicker here? This album was released only one year after Orchid, absolutely no sophomore slump for Opeth. They jumped straight out of the awkward teen phase, found their identity and embraced it. Another large step for the band, in my opinion, was production value. Orchid wasn’t bad, but Morningrise takes it one step further in creating a perfect atmosphere for the darker songwriting that is showcased. In fact, a darker atmosphere altogether can be felt throughout Morningrise, even evident on the stark contrast of the black and white cover image that replaces the colorful orchid.


My Arms, Your Hearse [1998] & Still Life [1999]

Opeth. You’ve done it. My Arms, Your Hearse is absolute bliss. This coherent and brilliant concept album is a somber masterpiece of darkness with more emotion than I wish to express on any given day. Peaks of alpine riffs and death growls effortlessly give way to the valleys of flowing acoustical passages and solemn vocal melodies. In such a river of sounds it is easy to get lost within the flow; so lay back, float and let the water (Opeth) be your guide. Every aspect of My Arms, Your Hearse is compelling, and it is apparent that the band put a great deal of thought and time into writing the material present. Also noteworthy is the influence that symphonic black metal, not unlike Emperor, has on this album, as is very evident on the heavier tracks.

Still Life is a perplexing album to describe. Opeth showcases their most intricate writing to date interspersed with some very simple and straightforward, traditionally influenced Heavy Metal riffs. And this is just speaking of the electric performances. The band allows the acoustical passages to really push the somber and melancholic emotion of this album to its limits. Åkerfeldt displays a developed vocal performance as well, adding a depth to his growling while his cleans demonstrate more refinement. Both of the techniques facilitate a change within their respectful places of the light and dark formula Opeth utilizes. It is worth noting however that even the “light” moments are full of darkness on this depressive concept album.


Blackwater Park [2001]

And thus starts Opeth’s ascent into the progsphere. Up until this point Opeth have dabbled in Progressive music and utilized many of the tropes within the genre, but had yet to write their own page in the Prog book of history. Blackwater Park is that page; hell it could be a whole chapter. Worth noting is the origin of the album title: Blackwater Park is the name of an obscure 1970s Prog Rock band that released one album. Somehow Åkerfeldt discovered them and deemed them worthy not only of an album title but also a major influence. By blending together their love of Prog structure and Death Metal riffs, Opeth helps to create a fluid piece of music to entrance listeners through thick and thin. The production of this album is also a key factor to its success. Every instrument has its own unique tone that stands clear in the mix, but also merge together for a well executed “Wall of Sound” atmosphere. The clean vocal melodies are just plain brilliant!


Deliverance [2002] & Damnation [2003]

“VALHALLA! DELIVERANCE!” Oh, wait, wrong use of “Deliverance.” Deliverance, the Opeth album that is, takes on a far more serious tone than the band’s last effort. It is intriguing to hear more overall emphasis on the heaviness and less on the flow of musical passages. While enjoyable, I found this to be somewhat of a letdown honestly (perhaps even a regression). There were many times that I found myself headbanging, but not many moments with any head scratching (the good kind) or mind-blowing. Deliverance reminds me of the heavier aspects the band played on Morningrise, instead of continuing with Blackwater Park.  Key points on this album though are the drumming, employing a fast technical jazzy technique, and Åkerfeldt has a few vocal deliveries that are some of his best yet.

Damnation is remarkably lighter than Deliverance, and for that reason I believe I enjoyed it even more. If this discog dive was an actual journey, Damnation would represent a calm clearing with a flowing brook amidst a dense forest, a place to relax for a moment before continuing. Åkerfeldt delivers some of his most endearing performances to date, and this is the first Opeth album with completely clean vocals. I can understand how this may be a turn-off for some, but aesthetically this album doesn’t beckon for growling. Rather, the dark themes of the lyrics are enhanced by the solemnity of his clean technique. Musically this album feels more like a deliverance than a damnation, and vice versa with Damnation, especially with the uplifting track “End Credits.”

Note: after completing this dive, I did a little research and found out Damnation and Deliverance were initially intended to be a double album; the record company didn’t like this so Opeth split the songs stylistically to create two very different albums. The more you know!


Ghost Reveries [2005] & Watershed [2008]

After the breath of Damnation comes Ghost Reveries and with it the return of death growls and a more classic sounding Opeth album. It jumps back to Opeth’s churning pot of electric and acoustic riff tradeoffs that would have worked out perfectly as a follow-up to Blackwater Park. Unfortunately, this backpedal makes D&D (haha!) seem like a mistake in direction rather than a new path to forge with Opeth trying to recuperate. A key difference to this album is its production and tone; it is predominantly brighter sounding than the rest of Opeth’s output thus far. The songwriting is solid as always, though somewhat lacking, and utilizes an almost funk/groove aesthetic within the heavier riffing. Due to these points, I don’t find this as compelling as most of their albums so far, but still think of it as a decent album.

Watershed starts off with the beautifully delicate “Coil,” setting a very distinct mood for the album. Immediately I am drawn back to Damnation, and my ears are graced with an elegant female vocal performance. So far, so awesome. My peaceful, yet sorrowful frame of mind is immediately disrupted as the opening chord is struck from “Heir Apparent” which, when coupled with “The Lotus Eater” is one of Opeth’s heaviest moments on record ever. This was going to be an exciting listen. As I continue, I subtly pick out moments reminiscent of past albums, and it becomes clear what Opeth’s intention were. Watershed is a culmination of its predecessors. Simply put, that is what you get with the album. I found it extremely enjoyable and loved the addition of a more traditional keyboard/organ sound on a few of the songs. With the fade out of “Hex Omega” I can almost feel myself closing a book, a perfect conclusion to the band’s former legacy. “Now,” I wonder to myself, “what stories lie ahead?”


Heritage [2011] & Pale Communion [2014]

And now we find ourselves at the biggest turning point in Opeth’s discography, Heritage. Opeth have played Prog throughout their career, but this is the first overtly classic Prog album they’ve written and, as such, is very divisive for fans of the band. Now I can totally understand why people were disgusted with the album, but at the same time I like it when bands progress, change their sound, and reinvent themselves. It allows them to grow as musicians and tread new territory. Sometimes this can be a blunder and bands fall on their faces; Opeth however shows us who they are as musicians. Åkerfeldt has dropped hints toward this direction since day one – he was just waiting for the right moment. Personally, I enjoyed the album quite a bit (bite me) and believe it to be a shining light in the band’s diverse discography.

Opeth continue their journey through the upper progsphere with Pale Communion, an album that is both lighter and heavier than Heritage. At times I can hear bits of Watershed seeping through the dividing wall of Heritage and back into Opeth’s sound, and then songs like “Goblin” disrupt any thought I have and remind me what I’m listening to. Overall there lies a darker tone surrounding the album, much like the shadows in the artwork,  but the jazziness adds a subtle hint of joy to the riffs. Many of the passages are mind-bending and reminiscent of older works, though they sound like the band falling back into old habits instead of creating new mazes to traverse. It has been a long and windy road to get to this point, and Opeth seem to have no intention of stopping anytime soon. Only time will tell how the band progresses from here.

For a little extra fun I’ve even ranked the albums this time. Oh, boy! LISTS! This is highly opinionated and based solely on my listening experiences for this article. The order is subject to change at any given time.

1. My Arms Your Hearse
2. Blackwater Park
3. Watershed
4. Heritage
5. Morningrise
6. Damnation
7. Pale Communion
8. Still Life
9. Orchid
10. Ghost Reveries
11. Deliverance

Thanks for sticking with me through these dives. I am forever grateful for your support. Please comment below, tell me where I went wrong and tell me who to dive into next. Opeth has a new album out this week. Check it out and let me know what you think. Cheers everyone!

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