Friday, December 15, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 1083: Opeth

I’m feeling a bit groggy tonight, but that’s to be expected. I’m still fighting a cold and I spent four hours getting a new tattoo. It’ll be a couple more sessions before it is done, and I’m pretty excited about the finished product.

Disc 1083 is…Ghost Reveries
Artist: Opeth

Year of Release: 2005

What’s up with the Cover? Creepy candles and the requisite shadowy figure in the distance that seems to be a mainstay of Opeth album covers. In this case it might just be a stained glass window depicting a king or something, or maybe it is just a trick of the light. Since it is the Christmas season let’s assume it is Good King Wenceslas, but since it is an Opeth album let’s assume when you bring the candles closer you discover King Wency is all covered in swamp muck and wielding a bloody hatchet.

How I Came To Know It: I read an article where someone picked a top metal album for every year from 1970 to 2017. This was the 2005 entry.

How It Stacks Up:  Opeth has released 12 studio albums but I only have four. Of those four “Ghost Reveries” comes in second, only narrowly falling short of my favourite, “Still Life” (reviewed back at Disc 1040).

Ratings: 4 stars

Opeth is a Swedish metal band that blends progressive rock, blues, jazz and a host of other sounds into a more nuanced exploration of the dark and dreary places Swedish metal bands tend to wander.

That wandering often leads those Swedish metal bands to go on at length about Satan. I don’t think most of them actually dig Satan, but the lyrics are intended to leave that impression. Opeth tends to branch out into a lot of other themes, exploring intolerance, depression and a host of other topics.

So what’s the main topic of discussion on “Ghost Reveries”? Turns out it’s…Satan, or at least part of it. The record explores the dark thoughts of a character that is being pulled, inexorably toward horrible decisions by some tempter. Sometimes the character seems in anguish over it, and sometimes he seems to revel in the power that is being offered to him.

The overall effect is to create a sense of foreboding, as the songs make you feel like you are being pursued by some relentless force, sometimes external and sometimes in your mind. Often the line between the two is blurry.

On “Ghost Reveries” Opeth’s penchant for musical discovery is at its height. “Hours of Wealth” is almost a classical guitar piece, noodling around in slow blues progressions that reminded me of Eric Clapton. On “Atonement” the guitar riff sounded more like George Harrison sitar music, which is then paired with a high tinkling jazz piano. It shouldn’t work, but it does. The guitar work on “Ghost Reveries” is top-notch throughout. Often I am drawn to bass and drums with this band, but here the guitar melodies were just too compelling to ignore.

In terms of lyrics, I find Opeth can overstuffed their songs with big words. When you read it in the liner notes it seems silly but once it is paired with their musical genius all that rich and horrific imagery just makes sense. They really like the words “mire” and “fog” and while those are pretty great words to go with all the foreboding and damp imagery, once I noticed their overuse I couldn’t stop noticing it. Or maybe it is like when you buy a new car and then it seems like you see the same make every time you go driving. There aren’t more of them, you’re just noticing them more now. But I digress…

Anyway, there is a fair bit of that throat-singing style but not so much of it that it became overpowering, and when Mikael Akerfeldt sings more traditionally his vocals have an otherworldly ghostly quality that juxtaposes nicely. Also, despite a lot of heaviness in places, the band is tight as hell and lets the thread of the melody pull you through the song. I wouldn’t dance to this stuff, but it makes for a pretty solid rhythmic head bob.

This album is a long one, over 66 minutes and with an average song length of 8:15 (four of them exceed 10 minutes) yet it never drags or has you wishing it would end. The songs take their time unfolding internally, and blend nicely into one another as well, even when they are transitioning from a slow bluesy number into a double-bass driven metal assault. A couple of those transitions gave me a wicked jolt when they happened but it was delightfully wicked.

“Ghost Reveries” is definitely thinking-man’s metal, but it never feels pretentious or forced and when they get their groove on they can rock with the best of them. That they can mix a whole lot of other elements into that groove and never lose the plot is an impressive accomplishment. If you like metal and you have an adventurous ear, this album is for you.

Best tracks: The Baying of the Hounds, Reverie/Harlequin Forest, Hours of Wealth, The Grand Conjuration

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