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Opeth

Blackwater Park

Review by Mike Korn

If you're the type of person that hates a sunny day or scowls at kittens playing, Opeth might be the band for you. These low-key, cerebral Swedes specialize in an epic form of heavy metal that is strong on gloom and foreboding. One of the more acclaimed bands in the metal underground, it's difficult to put an exact finger on what they are doing except for the fact that it is cold and grim and quite well done. About the furthest you can imagine from being a pop band, this is a group that throws a considerable amount of melody into its mix. In fact, many thrashing headbangers who don't look beyond the next chugging riff will be turned off by the profusion of acoustic guitars and subdued piano on the record. On the opposite side, those into melodic rock will probably not go a bundle for singer Mikael Akerfeldt's very deep death metal growls or the more blatantly metallic moments. This is not an "instant" band or one that is aimed at the masses. Even I find my patience tested by some of their more "wandering" moments. But if you dig deep enough beneath the surface of Opeth's dark tales, you'll find a unique band brimming with tremendous musicianship and the ability to create a somber mood.

Opeth is a metal band, but there's enough here to appeal to the bolder fans of progressive rock, Gothic and even folky music. "Blackwater Park" is a superbly played and produced record that is recommended for those who like a heavy dose of gloomy mood mixed with their heavy metal. Opeth's reputation is deserved but this is not for everyone. Investigate only if you have a lot of patience and an open mind.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Leper Affinity
This one starts immediately with a jagged, tumbling metallic riff and the awesome growling vocals of Mikael Akerfeldt. Akerfeldt is certainly one of the best death metal singers I've heard but he has more up his sleeve. The song proceeds in a melodic, but heavy mode not terribly distant from Finland's Sentenced but then shifts gears to a mostly acoustic style. Akerfeldt then switches to his cleaner, more melodic vocal. People will have a hard time believing the same man does both voices. This is one of the stronger tracks, summing up Opeth's epic mixture of metal and melody well. 
Bleak
The first half of this is a real powerhouse. A very heavy and majestic riff, with a Middle Eastern type feel, marches along, with Akerfeldt's ultra-low but articulate growls accentuating it incredibly. The music really summons up the feeling behind the title. Again, we switch to a mellower mode in midstream, with the cleaner vocals, before ending with a return to a heavier feeling.
Harvest
This one will really test the metal fan's patience. Basically, it is a melancholy acoustic folk song with only a little electric guitar accentuating it. The chorus is catchy enough and the song is pretty, but this goes on too long and is just too soft for an old metal dog like me.
The Drapery Falls
This cut starts with a sad, ethereal quality that reminded me in some ways of Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" but with more of a metal feel. This time, the clean vocals start before morphing into the more brutal growls later on. There's some unusually dissonant guitar experimentation going on here and it's a very challenging track. I feel this is one song that a couple of minutes could have been pared off with little effect.
Dirge For November
Yes, another cheery pop song, as you can tell. Actually, this starts so quietly, with muffled vocals and stark piano, you might miss it. It jumps back and forth between heavy and melodic with a fair amount of frequency, maintaining the bleak feeling all the way through and finally ending with some very minimalist piano twiddling.
The Funeral Portrait
This is the best track on the LP and the one that has the most cohesive feel all the way through. After a little tumbling folk guitar, this goes into a very up-tempo heavy riff very reminiscent of Dream Theater's heavier moments. Again, Akerfeldt's death growls accentuate the music beautifully. There's a very melodic chorus with clean vocals about 2/3 of the way in. This track is heavy and energetic for most of its length and I'll bet it would be good in concert.
Patterns in the Ivy
A relatively brief instrumental, this track is very restrained, consisting of mostly acoustic and very glacial sounding piano. It is a real mood piece.
Blackwater Park
The lengthy title track covers much of the same territory. By now, the alternation between heavy and melodic is no longer much of a surprise. This one has some very progressive song elements to it, with more twists and turns. But, at the end of the 67-minute album, you are pretty exhausted if you've been listening intently all the way through.
 
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