Err, wait. I'm getting ahead of myself. To simply call Opeth "death metal" is lazy and does them no justice. Vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt can unleash a growl so utterly demonic it sounds inhuman, but I think beyond that Opeth's parallels to death metal are scarce. Opeth is better described as the bizarre marriage of metal brutality and pastoral elegy. Without a doubt, Blackwater Park is full of crashing guitars and brutal growls, yet Opeth balances with melodic acoustic passages and vocal deliveries with icy beauty. Often, these elements are encompassed entirely by one song. The 10-minute opener, "The Leper Affinity," begins with flaming guitar riffs and bestial vocals, but as you approach the 5-minute mark, the heaviness falls away to be replaced by delicate clean singing and a dreamy acoustic section. Even at its heaviest, Blackwater Park remains surprisingly melodic, with fluid guitar lines and ear-catching riffs. Opeth is clearly more about dynamics of light & shade than the conventional sonic mire of other similar bands. (Although, truth be told, there aren't really other bands like Opeth.) Producer Steve Wilson (Porcupine Tree, No-Man) doesn't seem like the right guy for the job...at least on paper. But Wilson's background makes him the perfect choice. His ear for sonic clarity and arrangement are surpassed by few, and he is a wonderful complement to the band's ambition.
"Harvest" is gorgeous. Layers of acoustic guitars, sparkling overlays of electric chords, and the chilling, beautiful vocals of Akerfeldt. It's probably my favorite song on the album. That's because I can't really listen to lots of the stuff here. The death vox are just too much for me. On a purely subjective level, I wouldn't give this disc 5-stars.
But forget that subjectivity. Sometimes you just have to admire what's being done, even if it's not your own cup of tea. Objectively speaking, Opeth is original and talented. If you like (or even tolerate) death metal vocals, I _strongly_ recommend you try Opeth. If you absolutely hate death vox, skip it. (Although I usually hate 'em but I tried this, so whatever.) Blackwater Park is unique, progressive, heavy, and sometimes beautiful. If you take the plunge, you may be turned off by the oppressively cold and bleak sound (plus some unhappy lyrics). But be patient. Allow its grandeur to unfold. You might be blown away like so many others.
What did you think of this review?