Opeth "Ghost Reveries" CD
Opeth is one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Hands down. Even the "worst" Opeth record is basically brilliant, and that's an extremely rare circumstance for a band to fall into. But it's become increasingly complicated for me to review subsequent releases from Opeth over the years since "Still Life", which was their absolute crowning masterpiece (many would have you believe it was "Blackwater Park", and many are wrong), because, for the most part, what they do is very much established. Since "Still Life", every Opeth record has basically followed more or less a similar path, just with little nuances added here and there to show the band's growth and expansion in the time passed between albums. Sure, the whole "Deliverance"/"Damnation" set had its contrast going for it, but for the most part the approach has been unwavering barring those added intricacies to the writing process. So each new Opeth record basically reaffirms two facts: Mikael ┼kerfeldt is a fucking genius, and, as mentioned, Opeth is one of the greatest metal bands of all time. And the proverbial song remains the same here, this is the immediately identifiable Opeth we all know and love: Amazing clean/acoustic parts and ┼kerfeldt's beautiful singing vocals contrasted by harsh growls and winding, spiraling, creative metal riffs all buffered with loads of progressive rock influences within the context of generally lengthy songs that routinely pass 10 minutes in length. This may be their first "high profile" release, and it may be the first record upon which the band's lineup boasts a full-time member (Per Wiberg) dedicated to organs and piano, but this is that same Opeth. Keyboards and such are rarely more prevalent here than they have been in the past, the balance of dynamics is still in check, and the key "difference" here is that the subtleties within the songwriting are a hint more adventurous than before. Opener "Ghost of Perdition" is the most commonplace Opeth track and could easily have appeared on most anything since "My Arms Your Hearse"; as could largely be said for the longest track, "Reverie/Harlequin Forest", where the former instrumental intro almost sounds like a throwback to something from the "Morningrise" era (if not earlier, it certainly sounds familiar, maybe I'm just not placing something), and the latter is simply a smidge more progressive in nature than your average Opeth track - basically sticking to the staple sound of the band's catalog, but standing out as one of the most well written tunes herein as a result. But with "The Baying of the Hounds" (which is nearly 11 minutes long), the creativity and variety are certainly pushed to the limits with a few nicely rocked out chord progressions utilizing nice organ backings - later developing into some atmospheric ambience with a few light vocal effects for added character. And newfound variations materialize even more so in "Beneath the Mire", where a rocked out drum roll introduces a keyboard driven passage with pulsing bass, while some of the stripped down chord progressions and stuttered arrangements employed are actually sort of un-Opeth. But despite being somewhat of a "shorter" track at eight minutes, there's still a huge shift midway through with some sparse clean chords and intriguing vocal layering with some guitar/keyboard lead harmonies (or at least it sounds that way) that are even structurally a bit of a sidestep for the band. The well subdued "Atonement" almost sounds somewhat abstract or experimental in its repetitious shifts from buzzing synths and tribal percussion to acoustic strumming and quick lead riffs, with watery effects over the singing to boot. The haunting "Hours of Wealth" is then the token laidback track of the record, and what a gem it is with its lush interplay between acoustic guitars and tactfully enveloping synths, using up nearly half of its running time with this form of instrumentation before stripping back to sparse keys and allowing the vocals to really shine within a vastly spacious window before another warm, bluesy lead comes in with more shimmery keys in the distance. Absolutely impeccable, truly. The also "succinct" (by Opeth standards) "Isolation Years" ends the disc on a similarly spacious note with dense layers of droning guitar melodies swelling in against warm clean arpeggios and light percussion for a consistently chilled out close. The recording sounds quite good, and while a little clearer (and therefore a touch thinner) than the band's past few efforts, it sounds extremely consistent with everything they've been doing over the last several years. I'm once more finding myself wishing that the percussion had a little more warmth to it, especially the kick drums, but more than that my only suggestion this time around is that they really need to shed more light on the basslines in the future, as Martin Mendez really is a solid bassist, and I find myself frustrated when I can only barely hear what he's doing, because I tend to find that his playing accents the other instrumentation really well. Other than that everything's pretty much set, and they've once again done a remarkable job in managing to ensure that so many of the guitar layers and details have been able to shine through. Visually this is probably the band's strongest presentation to date, though. I love all of the artwork, which tends to look a little different from the norm, and the fact that there's no text on the cover is a nice touch. I've never been terribly interested in Opeth's lyrics simply because I don't tend to feel any connection to most storytelling types of approaches, especially when any form of supernatural content is involved, so I'd love to see them venture into more personal territory at some point, but aside from the fact that I don't really identify with this kind of thing ┼kerfeldt is pretty good at what he does there: "Love lost of the heart, in a holocaust scene memory, Decrepit body wearing transparent skin, inside, the smoke of failure..." Do I even need to summarize? Mikael ┼kerfeldt is a fucking genius. Yes. Opeth is one of the greatest metal bands of all time. Yes. Pretty much everything they do is brilliant. Yes. So while this record feels a little long and it is getting a little harder to make it through more than an hour of new Opeth material in one sitting these days, that's no insult, it's simply that this is the kind of music that really requires time and attention to fully absorb and appreciate. While none of the twists and turns herein are shocking, there are a few real surprises, so I won't be surprised if Opeth ends up pushing farther and farther out from their standard practices in the future, and I hope that the greater promotion and availability of this release will grant them the significant levels of success that they deserve. Man, I love this band... (9/10)
Running time - 66:46, Tracks: 8
[Notable tracks: The Baying of the Hounds, Reverie/Harlequin Forest, Hours of Wealth, Isolation Years]
Opeth - http://www.opeth.com
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