Friday, November 24, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1075: Opeth

Every year at this time I take a couple of days off to watch football on US Thanksgiving and recharge my batteries for the home stretch leading up to Christmas.

With an enjoyable day of football now behind me I now need to feed the spirit, so I’m going to write this music review and then I’m going to work on my book.

To all those people at work right now who are filling in for me so I can do these things, a heartfelt thank you.

Disc 1075 is…Blackwater Park
Artist: Opeth

Year of Release: 2001

What’s up with the Cover? Many years ago I was into this collectible card game called “Magic: The Gathering” which featured a bunch of evil-looking swamps you could use to power your spells. This cover would be a perfect fit for one of those swamp drawings.

As with their 1999 album “Still Life” (reviewed back at Disc 1040) Opeth has hidden some shadowy human figures in the picture. Creepy…

Also, great font for the band name. Even without a foreboding swamp, that band logo would look cool.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Kelly had this album years ago and played it for me, but I didn’t buy it back then. Recently I was digging through Opeth’s discography and I discovered it again, liked it a bit more and so…here it is.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Opeth albums. Of those albums, I put “Blackwater Park” second or third best. To leave room for “Ghost Reveries” I’ll say third. Hey – it’s tough to skate first.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Progressive metal is not for everyone. Hell, it isn’t even always for me, but “Blackwater Park” is such a good example of it that it is hard not to like.

As is the case on a lot of their albums from this period, “Blackwater Park” is an artful blend of two styles There are pounding black metal riffs, with lead singer Mikael Akerfeldt barking out in the guttural throat singing style common to the genre, mixed with lighter symphonic mood elements, coupled with Akerfeldt switching it up to an airy atmospheric melodic singing. In this later style he is reminiscent of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan.

While “Blackwater Park” isn’t as consistently amazing as “Still Life” there is still plenty to like. The record knows when to pound away relentlessly and get your energy up. Then, just when you’re starting to feel a bit frantic, it brings you back down with an echoing bit of standalone piano.

This is intricate music, and requires a good deal of skill from all the players. Despite intricate song constructions and a feverish pace, everything sounds tight and crisp, allowing your ear to roam around a little and hear the songs from different perspectives.

I started out trying to hear the lyrics, but most of the time I got swept up in the guitar riffs and let my thoughts wander. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately and the layered song construction was therapeutic. I can see why troubled kids are drawn to this stuff; at least the smart ones.

Somewhere between my second and third listens I started tuning in to the bass lines, which on a lot of metal just travel below the guitar melody and give it oomph at the bottom end. Not so on “Blackwater Park” where the bass has its own journey, lifting and falling deep in the mix and providing a foil to the guitar line that is often different, but always complementary.

The bass line was a lot easier to pick out when walking. When I was riding the bus, the low rumble of the engine got in the way of me hearing the songs in their full glory. It made me realize why people like to turn this kind of music up. You gotta hear it from top to bottom or you’re not really hearing it.

The songs on “Blackwater Park” tend to be drawn-out affairs. There are only eight songs but the record is over 67 minutes long. Despite this the record doesn’t drag and the songs, though long, have sufficient complexity that you want them to go on for eight or ten minutes so the musical themes feel fully explored.

In terms of what the songs are about, as I noted above it was hard to follow along, even though the lyrics are in English. Because it’s been a rough November, the song “Dirge for November” appealed to me just because of the title. Also, its “wet leaves and cold hard rain” vibe was just right for a wallow while I walked. However, when I looked up the lyrics in the liners notes, I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was happening. Something bad, but Opeth aren’t terribly specific. It’s a mood piece for when you’re in a mood.

The Funeral Portrait” is the crowd pleaser on the record, with powerful power riffs that would be at home on an early Metallica album, and a groove that demands a mosh pit. It also has some pretty cool moments from drummer Martin Lopez.

While I preferred “Still Life” overall, there is a lot to be said for “Blackwater Park” being the gateway album into this band. The riffs are accessible, the record has good energy throughout and these boys can play.

Best tracks: Bleak, The Funeral Portrait, Blackwater Park

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