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Opeth - Blackwater Park CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.25 | 1624 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
5 stars A few seconds of rising noise presages a gargantuan explosion of riffage. 'Blackwater Park' is born amid the thumping of double-kick drums, howling, growling vocals and a Great Wall of guitars. This was my first exposure to OPETH and, for the first time since hearing the opening riff to 'Symptom of the Universe' in 1976, I was overwhelmed by the sheer power of music.

This, for me, is the seminal OPETH album. Intellectually I understand it is on a par with its immediate predecessor, 'Still Life', and the fact that I favour 'Blackwater Park' is probably because I heard it first. Just so you know I'm biased. But this has everything: musical beauty, violence, drama, lyricism, grandeur and, above all, the coherency that has to some degree been missing from all preceding OPETH albums.

'The Leper Affinity' starts with a riff that brings me out in a sweat. AKERFELDT's growls are deeper and clearer on this album, and his words are accompanied by riff after stellar riff, as though he's stolen TONY IOMMI's bottomless magic riff bag gifted by the devil in 1970. A minute thirty in and we've had three of the most outstandingly hooky riffs I've heard. We get more lead guitar in this song than had been the norm for OPETH to this point, and the band makes full use of its twin-guitar attack. A wonderful solo at the three minute mark is followed by a dramatic micropause and a rhythm reshuffle - only on a prog album - as we get another great riff ... and on it goes. When the song detumesces towards the gentle central section it's almost a relief. The real triumph of 'Blackwater Park' is the seamless integration of the acoustic sections with the rest of the songs: here the bass plays the riff behind the acoustic guitars, linking it to what has been and what is to come. And on it comes: the heavy section rises again until it reaches one of the most impressive moments in metal music, AKERFELDT's scream over a pause and the reintroduction of the opening riff, completing the circle and emphatically stamping 'prog rock' on the music.

OPETH have always feasted on a surfeit of creativity, but in my view have not made the most of what they have - until this album, this moment. Maybe it was STEVEN WILSON's influence, who knows? But nothing outlives its welcome in this song, and it has such a pleasing musical shape, making it more accessible to those of us brought up on '70s prog. If you can cope with the heaviness, this is a very good place to start your exploration of modern progressive music.

The album never drops in intensity. 'Bleak', 'Dirge for November', 'The Funeral Portrait' and the title track are all outstanding, the equivalent of anything on 'Still Life', but are overshadowed by the other tracks on the album. 'Harvest' is OPETH throttling back, clean vocals and subtle acoustic and electric guitars, a sort of halfway house between their acoustic numbers and their stormers. This is far more than a mere respite between the ten-minute ear-crushers. 'Harvest' is a wonderful song on its own terms, and OPETH were to go on to prove this was no fluke with their album 'Damnation', which featured an entire record of songs like this. The melodic hook is in the vocals, just where it should be to act as a wonderful counterpoint to the hook-heavy riffs of the surrounding songs. 'Patterns in the Ivy' is sheer beauty, and it is a matter of some importance that you seek out the 2 CD edition with the extended version of this song and its equally beautiful partner, 'Still Day Beneath the Sun.' The acoustic material is a step up from previous albums, less busy and far more melodious.

That leaves 'The Drapery Falls', OPETH's magnum opus. There aren't words, really. An intense and deeply satisfying swirl of guitar opens and closes the song, created as AKERFELDT upends his purloined riff bag and uses the best he can find, and in between we have complexity, hooks and riffs to burn, along with the most impressive bass on the album, and a riff of unsurpassed violence in the central section, all packaged together to make something very special. If you're going to judge the band on one downloaded song, make it this one. Would an earlier AKERFELDT have had the courage or ability to sing the 'Pull me down again' section - which would test any vocalist?

I'm impressed by the way the songs flow on this album. At no point does my attention waver, at no point are there two consecutive songs with similar personalities. And just when it might be getting all too much, there's a quiet moment of piano or acoustic guitar to allow me to draw breath. It's deliberate, and here more than anywhere I'm guessing we see STEVEN WILSON's hand.

I have five favourite 'desert island' albums. Two are from the 1970s: 'Ommadawn' and 'Close to the Edge'. Two are from the 1990s: 'Snivilisation' and 'Music Has the Right to Children' (neither classified as prog). And there's one from the 2000s: this one.

Any negatives to this album?


russellk | 5/5 |


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