2012-08-18

Henrik tries to understand ... Opeth

OK, so I wanted to try a new thing on this blog without having anything to do with new albums or classic metal monuments. In this section I will try to understand the greatness of a certain band/artist that many people within the metal community seems to like. Or love. I will really try to get into the music and to listen to as much songs from as much albums (from said band) as possible. I don't have any real hopes that it will change my perspective or the way I feel about the band - but it could just remove some grudges or perhaps burn away some preconceptions that I might have. Some of these bands I have tried to understand before and some will be entirely new to me. Read and you'll see...
Today I will try and understand the Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth.

First, here's what I know about the band:
  • They're considered geniuses (especially frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt) amongst a lot of people.
  • They have released quite a lot of albums since 1995.
  • They tend to make reaaaally long songs (at least in the past).
  • Their latest album contains no death metal vocals and is very 70s/proggish.
The sexy guys in Opeth 1995
And that's about it. It is impossible to have not heard a single song from Opeth before, if you like I, have been listening to metal for many years now. So yeah, I've heard some stuff here and there before, but nothing's ever grabbed my attention. But let's start this thing now by listening to a song called "In Mist She Was Standing" from their first album "Orchid" (1995).
First of all, I must say that I've always admired Opeth's song titles and the few of those lyrics I've read have been really poetic and appealing to me. One point there already. The opening riff is cool and catchy enough to grab my attention. But they play that riff way too long. It takes over 2 minutes until we hear some actual vocals - delivered really good by vocalist Åkerfeldt - but that just a tad too long for my taste. The composition of the track is really unorthodox and I understand that's something that the guys were aiming for - to leave all traditional verses and choruses behind. Nothing wrong in that since In The Woods... do that to perfection.
After 6 minutes we have heard everything from guitar solos to acoustic passages and whispering and we're still not halfway through. These guys are gifted musicians - no doubt about it - and I really like the acoustic stuff but I've heard it so many times before. Sure, I understand that this was quite breathtaking and forward-thinking back in 1995 and I guess I too would have been amazed if I heard it back then.
They really have some amazing riffs and passages along these 14+ minutes but oh my how they would have benefited if they just didn't play the same stuff for so goddamn long. I know that this is a common critic people have with Opeth, but I just cannot get over it. I have nothing against long songs, but things have to happen and keep me interested all the way through. My Dying Bride and the mentioned In The Woods... for example are very good at that. These guys play good stuff but just for too fucking long. Enough!

I'm skipping the album "Morningrise" just because it has a boring title - let's do a bit discography-jumping and listen to "Demon of the Fall" from their 3rd album "My Arms, Your Hearse".
This song is 6.13 long so I shouldn't have a problem with lengthy riffs and passages here right? Quite right indeed. The opening riff is good (not great) and Mikael's vocals sound more "death" and less "black" here which is something he also is better at. But this song is not purely death metal (as usual - I assume - with Opeth) because the band just can't seem to let go of those acoustic passages - no matter how short they are. And the shortness of the acoustic passages really serves this song right. Had they been as long as they were in "In Mist She Was Standing", it would not have benefited the song. And just as I wrote the last lines, of course the band gives me a bit longer acoustic passage - just to piss in my face.
But the clean vocals that come afterwards are ace and I really like how the band manages to steer the song from pure death metal into something of their own - kudos to that! As one of Opeth's shorter songs, it works alright even though there's really nothing special about it. It actually made me long for a song with even more clean vocals - hopefully the next one will give me just that.

The last album released by Opeth in the 90's was "Still Life" and the song I've heard the most about on said album is a track called "The Face Of Melinda".
The intro has nothing to do with metal whatsoever, but I can't deny that it sounds absolutely lovely. So soothing and the clean vocals in combination with the lyrics works wonders. After 3 minutes, I'm beginning to wonder if this song is solely a ballad. My wonders are shot to pieces at around 4½ minutes when the electric guitars comes crushing in. It still sounds like a ballad though and...
Oh sorry, I almost fell asleep on my keyboard out of boredom. Still, there's nothing wrong with Opeth's music but nothing really grabs me. As I mentioned earlier, they are competent enough to churn out melodies, riffs and arrangements that gets my attention but the length of it all makes me sleepy.

After hearing one really epic long song, one more death metal-ish and one ballad-ish - just by pure coincidence mind you - I want to hear something in between all those and I turn to the album that I've heard much praise from - "Blackwater Park" from 2001. I've also listened to this album a 2-3 times before in my attempts to understand Opeth and from what I remember, I kind of thought it wasn't half-bad.
Opeth 2001
The song is called "Bleak" and like that it starts kind of in-your-face - both with the music and the vocals - and this is the first time during my Opeth-listening session that I actually have nodded my head along with the music. This sort of arrangement with acoustic stuff buried in the more metalesqué riffing combined with the even darker growls (way better than any of the growls I've heard him perform prior to this album - what a difference) is much, much more my cup of tea. The clean vocals are also improved compared to the prior albums - much more confident and not as much "average-clean-metal-vocalist-Anders-Fridén". As usual, the song mixes the slower, softer parts with the heavier, but compared to the earlier albums I find all these combinations more interesting and the 9.16 minutes doesn't feel that long. The ending is really cool and this might be the first time I've sat through an entire Opeth-song without yawning a single time.
As a conclusion, I find it funny that this album is the one with the lowest average rating on Metal-Archives - not counting the newer ones. Thank god I don't feel the same as the Opeth-fanboys.

Next album is called "Deliverance" from 2002 and I know perfectly well that this is the "heavy album" and that they released a soft album the year after.
I choose "Master's Apprentices" because I know that people have mentioned the words Morbid and Angel while talking about it. It's cool and groovy mid-tempo death metal where I recognize Mikael's voice very well from the far superior band Bloodbath. After 2 minutes they go way too technical on us and I begin to look at the clock in boredom. Thankfully, the vocals saves the song once again. After some time, the clean vocals enters and sounds quite awkward in combination with the same mid-tempo riffs. They're delivered with perfection as usual, but they feel out of place in this song. The mandatory acoustic passage could easily have been cut out altogether and saved us a couple of minutes. Ironically, this sort of unorthodox writing of a metal song makes it feel like standard writing when you've heard a couple of songs do the same thing. By now, I would so appreciate some actual verses and choruses. They are close to giving me a hard-on with some riff and then looses me with the next one just as quick.

Time for some slower and softer music with 2003's "Damnation".
The song "In My Time Of Need" I actually heard the band perform live on Swedish national television once upon a time. I remember I sort of enjoyed it so I choose it for this one again. The actual music is soothing and alright, nothing special though. The effects and the song-melody that shows up from time to time are downright embarrassing, but when they turn off the effects and Mikael sings with an actual melody - it sounds much better. One of the most positive things about this song is that there's an actual chorus and any form of recognition gives me a peace of mind. Other than that, the song is mediocre - not good or bad in any way. 5.50 minutes is perfect for many of the other Opeth-songs, but here it is just too long.

Fuck me, how many albums have this band done? I think I may be in over my head right now. Anyway, on to 2005 and "Ghost Reveries".
I chose a song called "Beneath The Mire" just because that title sounded somewhat appealing to me. It starts very different from all the other Opeth-songs I've heard and the addition Per Wiberg on all things with keys have really made a huge impact on the band's sound. I like.
After the intro, the play something else until they for some damn reason chooses to play the intro again - way to draw out the playing time there. The music is alright, but I so fucking tired of listening to long songs that really doesn't go anywhere. Keyboards, piano, guitar solos and stuff like that are only things that makes the song keep it's head above water for a little while. But when the mandatory acoustic piece comes halfway through the song, I've had enough and turn off the song. Next!

I've heard so much negative response over "Watershed" from 2008 that I cannot really find the strength to sit through (what I assume is) yet another epic song filled with acoustic passages and mediocre riffing. Instead, I turn to their latest album "Heritage", which although it has received even more criticism, I have actually heard and liked before.
Even though I'm not a sucker for 70's music or progressive music at all - I really like the intro of "The Devil's Orchard" where one can hear those influences shine through a lot. And I really mean a lot. Apparently, there's no growling at all on this album and people have been weeping because of that. I am not crying and I can see what the band was trying to achieve here. Mikael's vocals are better than ever and the part where he's singing "God is dead" is absolutely wonderful. I like the playfulness the band is having here and it actually sounds like they had fun in the studio. Funny how someone like me - who usually prefers black-, doom- and folk metal - thinks that this just might be Opeth's finest hour so far.

And that's it. Even though I actually enjoyed their latest album it will not turn me into a fanboy. I think the band is going in the right direction right now and I want to hear what they will do on their next album. But overall, I think no one who reads this will be surprised if I say that I find that Opeth's main problem is the sometimes insanely long songs that drags on forever. Also, I kind of prefer things with a bit more structure to it, even if I generally don't have any problems with unorthodox song-writing.
And before you start picking on me that I only like short songs with verses and chorus - please remember that I worship My Dying Bride, like In The Woods... and enjoys Pan.Thy.Monium. Thank you.
I have sort of come a little, little closer to enjoying the music of Opeth and I most definitely understand why so many people like them. I think I might put some songs from "Blackwater Park" and "Heritage" on my playlist in the future, but you wont ever see me buying one of their albums.

2 comments:

  1. Opeth is a kind of band that is simply not for everybody, because most of the songs are in fact drawn out and take a sort of patience or passiveness to listen to. Even so, I think your song choices weren't the best (you've heard more about Face of Melinda than The Moor?). I think you should try a couple more of their better songs, such as Ghost of Perdition, When, or Leper Affinity. Ghost of Perdition in particular really shows how skilled the band is at using volume changes to great effect.

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  2. Yeah, I realized that I kind of had chosen the "wrong songs" here and there. After I did this "tries to understand" I try to get some advices on which songs to choose from people who are actually quite into (or even die-hard fans) of the band.
    I never did that when I tried out Opeth. But should I choose to do this with Opeth again in the future, I will most definitely consider your choices.
    Thanks!

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