Opeth / Bloodbath
Reviewed on this page:
Orchid - Morningrise - My Arms, Your Hearse - Still Life - Breeding Death - Blackwater Park - Deliverance -
Resurrection Through Carnage - Damnation - Nightmares Made Flesh -
Ghost Reveries - The Roundhouse Tapes - Unblessing The Purity - Watershed - Heritage
Sweden's Opeth, formed in 1990, is the thinking person's death metal band. It's been common since the days of Sabbath and Zep to feature acoustic interludes in between the headache-inducing heaviness and Cookie Monster vocals, but Opeth's lighter fare is so well composed and varied it's just as captivating as their jackhammer main riffs.
They have all the musicianship of the 70s prog bands like Yes - and as many ten- to twenty-minute running times - but instead of endless soloing, they focus on tightly-arranged ensemble sections.
In fact, sometimes they're having so much fun with the other stuff, they never get around to the death metal: 2003's Damnation is straight-up folk-rock, and 2011's Heritage .
Some band members also work with a side project, Bloodbath, which focuses exclusively on ear-shattering metal - I've reviewed their discs on this page, and a 2009 Opeth live show here.
Vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt and guitarist Peter Lindgren were the core of the band - at least until Lindgren's 2007 departure - writing most of the songs while a variety of other players have come and gone. They sing in English, like nearly all metal bands regardless of nationality, and lyrically they're often preoccupied with doomed romance.
Opeth's metal sections are too loud for most prog fans, and there are too many slow prog sections for most metal fans, but if you like both, boy, is this the band for you!
Opeth (formed 1991) - David Isberg, vocals; Mikael Åkerfeldt, guitar, vocals; Nick Döring, bass; Anders Nordin, drums. Döring left 1991, replaced by Johan DeFarfalla, who left almost immediately; Peter Lindgren, guitar, joined. Isberg left, 1992; Stefan Guteklint, bass, joined. Guteklint left, 1994, replaced by DeFarfalla. Nordin and DeFarfalla left, 1997, replaced by Martin Lopez (formerly of Amon Amarth) and Martin Mendez. Per Wirberg, keyboards, joined 2005.
Lopez left, 2006, replaced by Martin Axenrot. Lindgren left, 2007, replaced by Fredrik Åkesson.
Bloodbath (formed 2000) - Mikael Åkerfeldt, vocals; Dan Swanö, drums; Andre "Blakkheim" Nyström, guitar; Jonas Renske, bass. Åkerfeldt left in 2004, replaced by Peter Tägtgren; Swanö switched to guitar and Martin Axenrot joined on drums. Åkerfeldt rejoined, 2005. In 2008, Swanö was replaced on guitar by Per Eriksson.
Orchid (Opeth: 1995)
At this point, the band wasn't doing much with time signatures, but their other key elements are in place: extremely heavy sections with Satanic vocals alternating with acoustic segments and melodic singing, organized into lengthy tunes ("The Twilight Is My Robe"). When it doesn't work, it really doesn't work, as on the turgid, disconnected snoozefest "In The Mist She Was Standing," and the interludes are similarly dull (the unaccompanied piano solo - played by Nordin - "Silhouette"; the mellow fragment "Requiem").
But the better numbers are coherent and compelling, including "Under The Weeping Moon" and the closing "The Apostle In Triumph," which includes elements that sound like English folk music.
Morningrise (Opeth: 1997)
Some of Opeth's other albums have more breadth, but this is probably their best clutch of songs.
The heavy parts are heavier ("Advent"), and "Nectar" is faster than anything else I've heard from the band - practically thrash. With a parade of quality riffs, "Black Rose Immortal" is the best twenty-minute rock song I've ever heard - granted, that means I'm comparing it to Sonic Youth's "The Diamond Sea" and the live version of "Dazed And Confused" and not much else. Even the less striking numbers are plenty listenable: "Night & The Silent Water" has a fascinating section with dual harmonized leads under death metal grunting.
Produced by engineer Dan Swanö.
A reissue of the album contains a lo-fi early demo of "Advent" (titled "Eternal Soul Torture") as a bonus track.
Heavy Metal Machine (Steel: 1998)
An EP from a side project featuring Swanö on high-pitched operatic metal vocals, plus Åkerfeldt, Lindgren and Nordin. As a Judas Priest homage/parody it's mildly amusing but nothing to go looking under rocks for.
My Arms, Your Hearse (Opeth: 1998)
The first release to feature the "all-Martin" rhythm section, with Lopez and Mendez replacing Nordin and DeFarfalla, and I have to think they're fans of triple meter:
an inordinate amount of the album is in 3/4, 12/8 or something related ("When"; "Demon Of The Fall"). Or maybe the culprit was new producer Fredrik Nordström.
In any case, most of the songs also sound muted compared to the surrounding LPs, apart from "April Ethereal," a thrilling, title-belying ride.
Also, the tunes are shorter, which in Opeth terms means they top out at nine minutes ("The Amen Corner") instead of twenty, and the lyrics tell a story I can't quite follow about a jealous ghost.
Unfailingly musical and well performed (the laid-back "Credence"), it's also not terribly exciting and no place for an Opeth rookie.
The 2000 reissue of the album includes two covers: a flabby version of Iron Maiden's "Remember Tomorrow," and a very amusing, Opethized take on
Celtic Frost's "Circle Of Tyrants."
Still Life (Opeth: 1999)
It's tough to differentiate among the band's albums: none of them are bad, and they're all more alike than they are different.
The sound here is richer, with touches of orchestral keyboards ("Moonlapse Vertigo"), and the heavy riffs are better than usual: "Serenity Painted Death" makes masterful use of the pinch harmonic squeal I usually hate, and "Godhead's Lament" rocks harder than any 12/8 song ought to, building to a stunning riff about three-quarters of the way in.
"Benighted" is mellow, tuneful folk-rock, while "The Moor" and "White Cluster" are somewhat sub-par multi-part suites with both acoustic and death metal sections. Lyrically another concept album, a medieval boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy's-ghost-gets-girl's-ghost story.
The last Nordström production.
Breeding Death (Bloodbath: 2000)
A three-song EP from an Åkerfeldt-fronted group that's sort of the all-stars of Swedish death metal: Swanö on drums, plus half of Katatonia: Andre "Blakkheim" Nyström (guitar) and Jonas Renske (bass). Typical of a "blowing off some steam" side project, the compositions are relatively simple (though there are midtempo passages, all the vocals are growled) quickly recorded (the guitars sound the same on every track), and brief. But the riffs are strong ("Omnious Bloodvomit"), and it's easy to recommend if you favor Opeth's heavier side. Start with the band's 2002 full-length or 2005 live recording, though.
Blackwater Park (Opeth: 2001)
Produced by Steven Wilson - who would also steer the next two albums - but there's no noticable change in approach. Again, it's tightly arranged metal epics ("The Funeral Portrait") with frills: "The Leper Affinity" closes with a piano interlude; "Harvest" is more acoustic folk.
Other than the gargantuan title track, though, the tunes don't particularly stand out: Opeth is never less than listenable, but at times they sound like they're going through the motions, and that's true of a long stretch of this disc (the thirty-four minutes from "Bleak" through "Dirge For November," approximately).
A two-CD import version of the album contains the bonus track "Still Day Beneath The Sun," a gorgeous melodic number that's probably the best of their soft-rockers.
Deliverance (Opeth: 2002)
The second-best record titled Deliverance of the decade and overall Opeth's heaviest disc: "Wreath" gets things off to a furious start, and the pace rarely slows down through the concluding "By The Pain I See In Others." There's still plenty of subtlety, though:
The mostly laid-back "A Fair Judgement" (with a prominent chorused piano) never comes together, but the brief, even mellower "For Absent Friends" is lovely.
The title track barrels through a bunch of time signatures but never really cools off, maintaining intensity without getting into a rut - it's my favorite track from the band to date.
They lose style points for the backwards vocals at the end of the album, but up until then it's a blast.
Resurrection Through Carnage (Bloodbath: 2002)
Again the first full-length from Bloodbath is straight-up death metal, without any of Opeth's shading or dynamic range.
It's much better thought-out and recorded than their first EP, though, so tunes like "So You Die" and "Soul Collector" are exceptionally powerful. Only rarely do they get stuck in a groove that goes nowhere ("Mass Strangulation").
I don't often want to listen to an album so single-minded and relentless ("Bathe In Blood"), but when I do, I'll put this on: the musicality nearly matches the ferocity.
Damnation (Opeth: 2003)
Well, this one's different: Recorded simultaneously with Deliverance, the album has no death metal elements at all. Which is cool, but they don't do much other experimentation either - there are keyboards, but they mostly just hold chords ("To Rid The Disease") - so it's just a lot of mellow folk-rock tunes ("Hope Leaves"). And without the contrasting hard sections, the quiet stuff sounds wimpy ("Weakness," with an organ that apparently escaped from "No Quarter"), and everything goes on too long ("In My Time Of Need").
As always, though, the musicianship is high (the intricate, 6/8 "Windowpane"), and the slow, aptly titled "Death Whispered A Lullaby" conveys menace and doom without resorting to ear-splitting volume. Plus it's nice to have an Opeth album you can play when your pastor drops by. Well, except for the title.
Nightmares Made Flesh (Bloodbath: 2004)
Åkerfeldt took a leave of absence from this side project, and Peter Tägtgren replaced him on vocals. Swanö switched to guitar, replaced on drums by Martin Axenrot, who would later join Opeth. Small world. Anyway, the reconstituted band sounds much like the old one: one Satanic barker is much like another, the riffs are plentiful ("Cancer Of The Soul") and the themes are lighthearted ("Soul Evisceration"). At times the twin guitars permit some snazzy intertwining lines ("Outnumbering The Day") and a fine solo on the rip-roaring "Feeding The Undead," while they slow things down on the anthemic closing vamp of "The Ascension." While most of the lyrics deal with wildly exaggerated gore as usual, "Eaten" is written in the voice of Bernd Jürgen Brandes, who volunteered to be killed and eaten by Armin Meiwes, the Rotenburg Cannibal, in 2001.
Ghost Reveries (Opeth: 2005)
They sure like to write about ghosts.
A good balance this time, as both the metal riffs and the interludes are entertaining and memorable ("Harlequin Forest"). They tackle a mind-bending array of genres: folk ("Hours Of Wealth"), jazz ("Beneath The Mire"), a pseudo-Indian hippie vibe on "Atonement." Though they play with time signatures a lot, it never sounds contrived (unlike, say, Mastodon): it's an outgrowth of the composing process, rather than the starting point. The only problem I have with this disc is that the different sections often seem patched together, more an album-long suite of fragments than a collection of songs.
The facility and flexibility of bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez are essential; new keyboardist Per Wirberg doesn't seem as integrated into the sound.
Self-produced; a 2006 reissue contains a painfully sincere cover of Deep Purple's "Soldier Of Fortune," introducing new drummer Martin Axenrot.
The Wacken Carnage (Bloodbath: rec. 2005, rel. 2008)
A document of Bloodbath's first live appearance, at the Wacken Open Air Festival. Åkerfeldt's back on vocals, and the band rips through their best songs without hesitation - as lightly as the bandmembers may take the project, the playing is perfectly professional. All three prior releases are covered, from "Breeding Death" through "Soul Evisceration," and everything sounds just like the studio versions ("Ominous Bloodvomit"). That's not surprising, since 1) the original discs were recorded quickly to begin with, and 2) the same is true of live Opeth, but it does make this disc redundant except as a historical record.
The Roundhouse Tapes (Opeth: 2007)
A live two-CD set recorded in 2006, spanning their career from "Under The Weeping Moon" to "Ghost Of Perdition."
The setlist bypasses many of their showstoppers (apart from "Blackwater Park") in favor of more obscure tracks ("Night And The Silent Water").
Unfortunately, this means they totally skip over Deliverance (which, not coincidentally, had been covered on the 2004 live DVD Lamentations). And the downside of performing such looong songs in concert is losing whatever portion of your audience doesn't like a given tune ("Bleak," let's say) for ten or fifteen minutes. Also, the band is strikingly faithful to the original recordings, which increases the enjoyment of the concert attendee exactly as much as it diminishes the experience of listening to it at home afterwards.
The last recording to feature Lindgren, who was replaced in May 2007 by Arch Enemy vet Fredrik Åkesson.
Unblessing The Purity (Bloodbath: 2008)
By the ad hoc band's fourth studio disc, the project no longer sounds like a lark, but more like a perfunctory exercise in bloodletting and blasphemy ("Blasting The Virginborn").
Guitarist Per Eriksson replaces Swanö for this EP and Åkerfeldt is back on vocals; however, he wasn't involved with the writing, which is ordinary at best ("Sick Salvation"). When there's only four songs to start with, guys, there's really no excuse for filler ("Weak Aside").
Watershed (Opeth: 2008)
Nathalie Lorichs adds vocals to the acoustic opener "Coil," but it gets pretty intense from then on:
"Heir Apparent" is extremely dark, with no respite from the furious low-tuned riffs.
But too many of the tunes leave no lasting impression, including "Burden"
and the single "Porcelain Heart" - they do the usual Opeth multi-part light/dark things but without the usual verve.
"Hessian Peel" has that epic sweep and wonderful individual sections,
but even there, it doesn't build to a thrilling payoff the way their best work does.
And "The Lotus Eater" includes a silly disco keyboard interlude, sort of death metal's answer to "Carouselambra."
Through it all, though, the sound is sharp as ever, so there are plenty of small rewards along the way ("Hex Omega").
The Fathomless Mastery (Bloodbath: 2008)
The same lineup as Unblessing The Purity, but the recording is more crafted and complex, with layers of guitars: there are ringing harmonics ("At The Behest Of Their Death"), interludes ("Mock The Cross") and extended solos ("Hades Rising"; "Process Of Disillumination"). Throw in the standard battering ("Treasonous"), and a seemingly bottomless bag of licks. I don't know how much of this was due to Eriksson, or how the songwriting was divvied up - everything's credited to the whole band - but the end result is a strikingly solid death metal record that's as varied as it is hard-edged ("Wretched Human Mirror").
In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall (Opeth: 2010)
A live set (2 DVDs, 3 CDs) including all of Blackwater Park and one song from each other album.
Heritage (Opeth: 2011)
After all these years of proclaiming his affection for 70s prog-rock, Åkerfeldt has gone ahead and made a no-bones-about-it prog record, with lots of organ and nary a hint of death metal. The quieter segments are much like Opeth's usual (the titular keyboard-only opener), while the loudest stuff ("Slither") recalls the experimental side of Purple or Sabbath (or, presumably, Åkerfeldt-approved bands I've never heard, like Camel). At a couple of points he whirls out some fusion a la Jeff Beck ("Nepenthe"); harder to excuse are the Tullesque flutes on the "No Quarter"-ish "Famine."
Though this stylistic shift isn't to my taste, the performances are exquisite - among other things, Akerfeldt's singing voice comes across exceptionally well - there is one fantastic, twisting riff ("The Devil's Orchard"), and the band doesn't sound bored the way they had on Watershed. I suspect Opeth may stay in this mode for a while (especially as Åkerfeldt has Bloodbath for a death growl outlet) so you may as well get used to it. Per Wiberg's last recordings with the group.
Storm Corrosion (Storm Corrosion: 2012)
A collaboration between Åkerfeldt and Wilson, apparently in a "mellow soundscape" vein. (DBW)
Pale Communion (Opeth: 2014)
Due in August.
A fair judgement?