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Opeth - Blackwater Park CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

4.25 | 1679 ratings

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4 stars 'Blackwater Park', released in February of 2001, was the 5th album released by Opeth. Even though it didn't sell well in the beginning, it is recognized as the album that 'broke the ice' for the band in gaining a bigger fan base. It also marked the beginning of a change where the vocals started to not just be dirty, growly vocals, but also clean vocals, all sung by Mikael Akerfeldt. Why he hid his clean vocals for so long is anyone's guess, because he has an excellent voice, but that style of vocal was the norm for black metal bands from Sweden. Even though the music was always complex and well composed, the music also started taking the path towards becoming more and more progressive.

A lot of potential fans were turned off by the growling vocals, but found the music to have a lot of depth. The move away from the black metal sound started to attract new listeners, plus the fact that this album would be the first time the band would work with Steven Wilson, thus bringing attention to Opeth from Wilson's fans. Wilson worked as producer and did some of the clean vocals and guitar parts of this album, plus he would also make contributions by playing additional guitar parts, keyboards and mellotron, and some of the clean and backing vocals for the tracks 'Bleak', 'Harvest', 'The Funeral Portrait' and 'The Drapery Falls'. As we also know, this lead to an ongoing creative partnership between Wilson and Akerfeldt in various projects including 'Storm Corrosion'.

The first track 'The Leper Affinity' starts things off strong and heavy, with some excellent riffs and changing meters and melodies. The vocals are dirty for the first 4 minutes. After this, things mellow down for a minute for the bridge and clean vocals, but this doesn't last long as it goes into a heavy interlude with dirty vocals returning eventually. The topic is a relationship that has become strained over the years and the narrator has become abusive creating a beast of himself increasing the threat of losing the one he loves who keeps him in touch with sanity. The last minute ends on a surprise piano solo.

'Bleak' is about a man who catches his lover cheating on him, who he murders and dumps the body into a lake. Wow, that's uplifting (cough). This one begins heavy with dirty vocals again, but it has a more melodic chorus. With the intensity remaining after 3 minutes, we get Wilson's clean vocals and Akerfeldt doing supporting vocals. At 4:30, there is an acoustic guitar solo with an e-bow being used on an electric guitar in the background. This changes after a minute, and the acoustic takes support while a nice melodic guitar solo plays, then Akerfeldt sings clean vocals. Then a louder solo takes over. You can hear the layers with the piano still in it, and that is an indication of Wilson's amazing production where you can hear every instrument in the mix. After this, interchanging vocals continue.

'Harvest' is more of an acoustic ballad with electric guitar providing a nice melody. The song is about a man during his last minutes of life wishing for someone to be by his side. Akerfeldt sings clean vocals with Wilson backing him up. The chord changes are somewhat complex and the melody is quite memorable, but it isn't necessarily typical. Very nice track which remains on the softer side, yet is still quite dark.

'The Drapery Falls' is one of my favorite early progressive tracks by Opeth. It alternates between heavy and quiet throughout, but remains dark and ominous. Akerfeldt starts out singing clean, but processed, vocals. This track was released as a single cut down to 5:05 for radio airplay, but the full version stretches past 10 minutes. There are nice acoustic sections backed up by e-bowed guitars again. There are also louder instruemental sections. Dirty vocals start after 5 minutes and everything becomes a lot heavier, more progressive and less melodic. The track is about a man that has become addicted to depression and pleads for it to return so that he can be on familiar ground. There is sudden change back to acoustic and clean vocals at 7:30 and in this section, there are sudden bursts of energy scattered throughout, then a nice, heavy melodic instrumental section.

'Dirge for November' starts with Akerfeldt's clean vocals immediately with a track that starts much like King Crimson's 'Book of Saturday' with a complex, acoustic melody, but after a minute, loudness kicks in. This one seems to be about a lone survivor in an apocalyptic world wishing for his death over being alone, so he commits suicide. Again we alternate clean and dirty vocals as intensity changes. It remains heavy until 5:30, where it goes into a soft guitar solo after the lyrics are done.

Starting out with a guitar playing an arpeggio somewhat similar to 'Dogs' by Pink Floyd, it soon kicks into high gear when all the instruments kick in with Akerfeldt's dirty vocals. This one is more like Opeth's older songs as it stays quite loud and dirty most of the way through, but has plenty of great instrumental interludes and riffs between the verses. This one is not one of my favorites as it ass too much growling through it, but around 7 minutes in, there is some interesting harmony between Akerfeldt and Wilson.

'Patterns in the Ivy' is a short acoustic guitar instrumental interlude with some backing piano. It's nice after the heaviness of the preceding track.

Last of all is the 12 minute title track 'Blackwater Park'. It tells the story of a village that is heading to destruction because of the corruption, violence and immorality of it's citizens and hints as to how this can bring about the fall of humans. This one is a great progressive track with tricky meters and changing thematic instrumentals. After some dirty vocals, there is a sudden soft interlude early on. This goes on for a few minutes until the intensity kicks back in, and growling starts again around 5:30. This stays heavy pretty much to the ending which fades on an acoustic guitar.

There are two bonus tracks that were added to the Legacy reissue released in 2010. The first one was a single called 'Still Day Beneath the Sun'. This is a nice acoustic ballad with Akerfeldt's clean vocals. The other bonus track is 'Patterns in the Ivy II'. It is a continuation of the acoustic track on the original album, but it has vocals and is extended to over 4 minutes. It remains mostly acoustic with other backing guitars and effects and is a fully developed song in this instance.

So, this is quite an amazing album, with a lot of ingenuity, dynamcs and progressive elements, but the only thing keeping it from being a 5 star album in my opinion, is the amount of dirty growling vocals. I love the heaviness, that's not the problem, I just can't handle the growls and screams in this one, and it detracts from just how great this album is. I can easily say it's worth 4.5 stars but the growling rounds it down to 4. It does show, however, Opeth's continued path to excellence, and is definitely one that should be listened to regardless.

TCat | 4/5 |


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