Album Reviews

Issue 2005-064: Opeth - Ghost Reveries - Round Table Review

Round Table Review

Opeth - Ghost Reveries
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Roadrunner
Catalogue #:RR8123-2
Year of Release:2005
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Ghost Of Perdition (10:29), The Baying Of The Hounds (10:41), Beneath The Mire (7:57), Atonement (6:28), Reverie/Harlequin Forest (11:39), Hours Of Wealth (5:20), The Grand Conjuration (10:21), Isolation Years (3:51)

Tom's Review

To the uninitiated, it might appear that Swedish ‘progressive death metallers’ (not my description!) Opeth are a fairly recent phenomenon – coming to the attention of metallers with 2001’s Blackwater Park, and to prog fans with 2003’s fine but uncharacteristic Damnation. However, the band have actually been toiling away for far longer, and since their second release, the superb Morningrise, in 1996, have released consistently excellent albums, yet its only recently they’ve started to get the rewards in terms of sales and recognition that they richly deserve.

2005 finds Opeth in a position that’s both enviable and yet must be rather daunting – they are venerated as never before, have a large audience of fans from diverse musical backgrounds, and a deal with a label which has excellent distribution and marketing. Yet at the same time the pressure of expectation is now far greater, and the fact that they are on Roadrunner, usually one of the quickest labels to jump on any passing bandwagon, lead (however unfairly) to many observers somehow expecting the band to alter their sound in order to make a quick commercial buck. Well, Ghost Reveries is now here, so… what are the results?

Opener Ghosts Of Perdition seems to exist almost as a riposte to anyone foolish enough to doubt Opeth’s musical integrity. If asked by someone to identify a track that defines the ‘typical’ Opeth sound, this would be a very good one to point them to. Full of the expected mix of heavy, infuriatingly catchy metallic riffs, highly melodic, characterful guitar solos and mellower, more ‘progressive’ sections, this isn’t a track that necessarily goes into any new territories (in fact its highly reminiscent of much of the material from 2001’s Blackwater Park), but as a statement of intent it works fine. Its also interesting to note that Mikael Åkerfeldt’s much discussed death grunts are at their most ferocious at the start of the song, as if to serve notice to those who only know the band from Damnation that this is back to business as usual.

Next track The Baying Of The Hounds is, in my opinion, one of the standouts of the album, and sees Opeth introducing some newer elements to the mix. Particularly noticeable is the opening riff – a great, driving hard-rock riff, with a bluesy swagger, it is more reminiscent of something that a band like Clutch might do than what you’d normally associate with Opeth, but it somehow seems to fit like a glove. New band member Per Wiberg really makes his presence felt here; there are Hammond stabs that add flavour to the aforementioned opening section, not to mention swathes of Mellotron in the latter stages of the song that will surely have prog fans in raptures. Basically this track contains everything you could want from Opeth; there’s almost too many highlights to mention, but a couple to note would be, one, a section where the pace cuts back around the three minute mark, and the band patiently build up upon a slow, persistent bass line, adding some haunting piano lines and shards of guitar, before the inevitable climax ushers in one of those wonderful, sweeping, almost symphonic guitar riffs that Opeth do so well; two, in the latter part of the song, a pastoral, laid back section where Mikael Åkerfeldt really impresses with his ‘clean’ vocals. I feel these have really developed over the last couple of albums, to the point where he is one of the strongest vocalists in the progressive rock genre. There’s a warmth and depth to his voice that really compliments the music. Overall, this track is a classic.

Beneath The Mire rides in on a symphonic riff with middle-eastern overtones that strongly echoes that of the Led Zeppelin classic Kashmir. This feel doesn’t last for long however, with the song soon morphing into more familiar Opeth territory, and the usual exemplary mix of heavier and more melodic sections. Notable moments include some strong duel guitar work from Mikael Åkerfeldt and Peter Lindgren towards the end of the track, whilst at one point Mikael Åkerfeldt unleashes one of the most ferocious roars you’ll hear! There’s a nice bluesy feel to some of the guitar work on this song, which helps add another dimension to the sound.

Much is made of the fact that some of Opeth’s more mellow material, particularly that on Damnation, clearly nods in the direction of early Camel, yet Atonement is more akin to something you might have found on their more recent Rajaz album; it’s a sedate number which settles around a gentle, loping groove and again has a middle-eastern feel. Strong guitar work and some nice piano touches by Wiberg in the closing section of the track, along with interesting percussive work by Martin Lopez (with tabla taking a leading role) are the main points of interest here.

Next up is another highlight, Reverie/Harlequin Forest. The Reverie section is a short pastoral-sounding instrumental piece, which nicely sets the scene for the lengthy Harlequin Forest. This is a typically complex Opeth composition, chock full of mood and pace changes; yet, despite several extremely heavy sections, it manages to retain a mellow, slightly rustic feel implied by the track’s title throughout. This is no doubt helped, once again, by Per Wiberg’s judicious use of Hammond and Mellotron to underpin the weighty riffs. Particularly noteworthy is the lovely middle section of the song, where a classical acoustic guitar plays a simple hypnotic melody consisting of just two notes, over which Mikael Åkerfeldt’s restrained vocal sits perfectly. The way that the heaviness is gradually brought back into the track from this point is exercised with consummate skill. This is another fine composition, and one which would probably have fit snugly on the band’s masterful Still Life album.

Hours Of Wealth gives listeners a well-earned breather; it’s a gentle ballad, coloured by some lush Mellotron work. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocal feels rather weary on this song, no doubt intentionally. The solo guitar work, which once again has a slightly bluesy feel to it, is of a high quality once again.

Next track The Grand Conjuration was chosen by Roadrunner as the lead track to promote the album; they even shot a video for the song, which was no doubt anathema to some Opeth purists! Its not difficult to see why this was chosen to introduce Opeth’s sound to a an audience perhaps more familiar with ‘new’ goth and metalcore bands, as it does have a distinctly ‘modern’ feel to it, even though fans can be in no doubt as to who they are listening to. Unusually for an Opeth track, it has a fairly rigid structure – whereas many of the band’s compositions start in one place and end somewhere completely different, this is more of a conventional verse-chorus-verse number, despite its typically long running time. In fact, it could have done with some pruning (although not by way of the rather carelessly executed edit that was used for the video), although there are some very strong elements; noticeably the verse sections, where the band create a darkly gothic and slightly sinister backdrop for Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocal, which sees him forsaking either of his usual vocal styles (mellow or growling) for an ominous semi-spoken delivery .

The album is wrapped up by Isolation Years, another ballad, but a more full-bodied one than Hours Of Wealth; it’s typically well rendered, and is a strong way to end the set.

This review has perhaps been a relatively long one, but the conclusion need not be – basically Mikael Åkerfeldt & Co have done it again and created yet another superb slice of progressive metal. Confirmed Opeth fans will love it, whilst the variety on show amongst the eight tracks means that there is something for everyone, be they fans of old-school progressive rock or highly technical death metal. The addition of a full-time keyboard player adds an extra dimension to the sound, and it’s a testimony to the production skills of the band and Jens Bogren that you wouldn’t even notice the absence of Steven Wilson if you didn’t know about it. Is there no stopping this band? On the evidence of Ghost Reveries, apparently not.

Superb stuff.

Dave B's Review

Sweden’s Opeth are a phenomena and almost defy classification with their unique blend of driving, technical, melodic, death-metal interspersed with the most sublime and eloquent acoustic passages dripping in feeling and beauty. Indeed, the previous three albums have gained acclaim not only from the prog and metal world but also the mainstream press, some going so far as to claim they are the pretenders to Metallica's mainstream-metal crown. The previous three albums: the seminal Blackwater Park, hard and heavy Deliverance and the mellow Damnation each contained music of the very highest quality and were beautifully produced by Porcupine Tree genius Steve Wilson. The superb Lamentations DVD showcasing both aspects of the band further enhanced their reputation.

The release of Ghost Reveries, Opeth’s eighth “observation”, was therefore one of the most anticipated albums of the year; anticipation tinged with trepidation for seasoned Opeth fans as several other events were also taking place that could change the winning formula for the worse. It was announced earlier this year that Per Wiberg (from Spiritual Beggars) the keyboardist they used on the Damnation tour had joined the band as a permanent fifth member and furthermore the band were forced to change record label following the collapse of Music For Nations.

Far more worrying perhaps was the news that Steve Wilson would no longer be at the production helm. There are a section of Opeth fans that think they went downhill after the release of Still Life (the last album not produced by Steve) but I am sure that they are very much a minority. To my ears, at least, he has carefully guided and nurtured the band helping them become what they are today – the previous releases were good but lacked the wonderful haunting melodies that I am sure Steve helped to develop.

The worrying was all for naught, this album is a jewel. Coining the well-worn phrase “evolution not revolution” would probably be understating the new elements that have been brought to the Opeth table because there's an awful lot of new ideas throughout but you always know it's Opeth, such is the distinctive sound they have built for themselves. Those that worried about the production needn't have bothered; if they'd accidentally printed "Steve Wilson" on the back cover nobody would do a double-take. The production is really excellent; in fact I would stick my neck out and say it's even better than before. I personally appreciate the bass being prominent in the mix and even when the whole band is going full-pelt you can always clearly distinguish all the instruments.

By taking the best elements from each of their previous recordings, Opeth have created another masterpiece, it’s almost like a “best of” except that all the songs are new. On top of this is the very tasteful addition of keyboards, not often seen on previous records the notable exception being Damnation of course which was drenched in Mellotron. Mellotron is once again used here, even playing the lead melodies in several places. Thankfully Per’s sound palette is otherwise restricted to the classic organ and piano which, despite people’s misgivings at the thought of a keyboard player in Opeth really fits in well. Per even manages to make the keyboards sound meaner than the guitars at times and that must take some doing.

The musicianship cannot be faulted. I was particularly impressed with the drumming of Martin Lopez – he navigates through both the technical passages and the lighter material with aplomb, also during the most intense passages he always retains a feel for the music and never overdoes it unlike many other death-metal drummers I have heard that just saturate the music with non-stop, double-bass drum madness. As already mentioned, Martin Mendez’s bass is high in the mix and for once we can clearly hear him. Distinguishing who does what in the guitar department isn’t so easy for me but as always there’s a nice interplay between Peter Lindgren and Mikael Åkerfeldt along with some nice acoustic passages as we have come to expect. Mikael’s vocals are again that lovely balance of death-metal, cookie monster, growling lyrics and his wonderful mellow, slightly depressing, clean voice. Personally I find it quite addictive.

The song writing is top-class throughout, from the (very excellent) opening Ghost Of Perdition - that could easily be a track left-over from Blackwater Park - to the closing (and very beautiful) Isolation Years – that would have seamlessly found itself on Damnation - there’s hardly a note wasted. As always the lyrics revolve around the macabre, the supernatural, death and loss without ever overstepping the mark or descending into the farcical – too many bands in the death-metal genre write the most ridiculous lyrics and seem to be more obsessed with the image than the music: white faces, big boots, nails, axes and severed dog’s heads and the like. Whereas most of the lyrics appear to be highly metaphorical Isolation Years and Hours Of Wealth are more straight-forward. The latter being quite unusual for Opeth insomuch as it’s stripped down guitar with simple clean voice, the latter lyrically reads like a poem and is very emotional and evocative.

Something for everyone to enjoy here, fans new and old alike, even the pre-Blackwater Park contingent will like some of it I’m sure. Perhaps their most rounded and accomplished to date but would I say it's better than what's gone before, that's a difficult call I'm afraid due to the high standard they have already set themselves, it is however no worse and is my personal favourite release of the year to date.

Yalcin's Review

Opeth is without a doubt one of the most unique bands in metal history. The journey starting with their first album up to their latest effort is simply breathtaking. With Mikael Åkerfeldt’s almost sick and never-heard-before guitar chords, the twin guitar folk tunes (although they gave up doing these), beautiful acoustic passages, intense riffing and a very tight rhythm section, they are one of the very few bands in the metal scene which cannot be described as a clone. Besides, many bands tried what Opeth did in the last years but almost all of them failed. The band’s music is so unique, it even can’t be cloned.

This unique nature also puts the reviewer into very hard situations when it comes to label the genre of their music. I for one prefer to call it simply “Opeth music”, and I guess that’s a compliment. While their early efforts were some kind of death – black metal hybrid with some progressive rock influences, their new era starting with the Still Life album was full of surprises and “could be” labelled as progressive death metal. The most important one of these surprises was their previous combo, namely, the mellow one being Damnation and the brutal one called Deliverance. It was clear that Opeth tried to show to which levels they could elevate their songs in two opposite extremes. While their previous albums contained these elements in a beautiful collage, this experiment tore them all apart and created two albums which possessed almost nothing in common. I must admit that I consider these two albums as a break in their evolution. The aggressive and in my opinion the most straight forward Opeth album ever Deliverance (well, besides My Arms Your Hearse) was very pleasant for their long time fans. On the other hand, the melancholic and mellow Damnation, which contained no brutal stuff was leaning almost towards the borders of progressive rock, and it helped the band to gain a lot of new followers. At that point there was a big, very big question mark how their next album was going to sound like.

So, here it is. With Ghost Reveries, Opeth continues its journey from the point where they’ve taken a break and goes on with shaping its sound closer to excellence, yet it is clear that the album is going to create a lot of controversies among the fans, since the dosages of progressive elements got higher while the clean vocals are a lot more prominent than their previous albums (of course, except of Damnation). For prog fans it is certainly a good thing since I’m sure there are many people who love the music of Opeth, but cannot stand the growls.

Many people call their Still Life album progressive metal with brutal vocals, but for me Ghost Reveries is the first ever “real” progressive death metal album, because in addition to the progressive “attitude” which could be felt in more or less every Opeth album, Ghost Reveries also reflects some structures and elements of progressive metal songwriting skills. Also, some influences from prog bands such as Tool and Porcupine Tree can easily be identified, especially in the first track, namely Ghost of Perdition. Not to forget is the addition of a keyboard player, Per Wiberg, who has been touring with the band for some time and also can be seen on Lamentations DVD. Now he’s an official member and his contribution to the music is immense. The textures he provides as well as his lead work enriches Opeth’s instrumental section, which was already quite diverse. If listened to carefully, it can be realized that he’s creating small miracles in the background.

Although the things I mentioned may give hints of a radical change in music, this is still Opeth. So the open-minded long time fans should rest assured since all these changes are done in a very smooth way and the classic Opeth trademarks are always there. Let’s take a look at the tracks:

The album kicks off with Ghost Of Perdition. A very good song which represents the typical Opeth trademarks as well as some Tool and Porcupine Tree influences, as mentioned above. Frequent changes of atmospheres within this song makes it truly a unique experience for the listener. The following song The Baying Of The Hounds starts with in-yer-face 70’s rock accompanied by the growls of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Hammond organ by Per Wiberg. A strange combination, but a beautiful one. After this heavy beginning the song’s middle section evolves into a beautiful silent passage and of course with a mighty crescendo it once again becomes in-yer-face progressive death metal which also gets interrupted by another beautiful acoustic passage later on.

The third song is called Beneath The Mire and it simply contains one of the worst beginning sections I’ve ever heard. So cheesy… But thankfully later on it builds into an amazing song which quickly became one of my favourites of the album. Especially the section around the 3:30 mark is nothing but beautiful and is one of the greatest mellow moments Opeth has ever created. At this point one must not forget to mention the name of the drummer, Martin Lopez. He truly is the star of this album and his snare and cymbal work just shines all around the album, especially during the mellow moments.

Then comes Atonement. A shock for the typical Opeth fan… I must admit that the song reminded me of Chroma Key (You Go Now period) not only because of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s Kevin Moore inspired vocals but also because of the instrumental section in general. The song ends with an outro which I think doesn’t quite fit, although it connects this song to the next one, Reverie/Harlequin Forest. In my opinion it would have been better if they had used the outro of Atonement as an intro for this song, but anyway. Harlequin Forest has an undeniable Katatonia feel in the beginning and is one of the more prominent tracks of the album. Later on it evolves into a death metal monster. Great guitar riffs combined with a tight rhythm section make sure that you get enough aggro for the rest of your day. As it is the case with the most of Opeth songs, it has an amazing acoustic section in the middle. Then comes another heavy section which hosts the drumming extravaganza of Lopez where he lays down Mike Portnoy inspired drum fills one by one. The end of the song is clearly prog metal and sounds more like an outro.

Then comes the second shock: Hours Of Wealth. Mikael Åkerfeldt goes Buckley? It’s a mellow song all the way through. Its beginning is based on keyboard partitions reminiscent of Fates Warning, but later on it is fully based on Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals and some vocal harmonies which reminded me of Sting. I personally think that this section could even fit in to a Norah Jones album (now, that’s what I call an exaggeration:D). The next track is The Grand Conjuration. It’s also the first song for a video clip. Whether it’s a good choice or not, I wouldn’t contemplate on. It’s not one of the better songs of the album, but it contains some commercial potential for the American metal market. For me it’s the weakest track on the album, too repetitive and too uninspired within Opeth's standards - except for a few moments. The final track is the mellow Isolation Years and it’s a great way to end an amazing album. Coming after a song which drains all your energy due to its aggressive nature, Isolation Years clearly relaxes the listener with its wonderful melodies and arrangements. In many ways it is similar to the songs on Damnation.

The production is also excellent and if listened carefully, the attention given to even smallest detail reflects the perfectionism of the band. The artwork is done by Travis Smith, as has been the case with all of their work, and fits in with the concept of the album perfectly - although it is a bit scary for my taste.

I’m quite sure that with this album Opeth will lose a lot of long-time fans. On the other hand they will gain a lot more listeners than they can possibly lose. The album has a great commercial potential, yet at the same time it is truly progressive and in my opinion stays true to its roots. This is what I call as an evolution and Ghost Reveries is a fantastic album which can easily compete with their classics such as Morningrise and Still Life. The most important fact for “our” readers is that it gives a chance to finally look at the band in a wider perspective, for the people for whom Opeth only stood for “instrumental quality” but was too death metal in the vocal department.

Highly recommended!


TOM DE VAL : 9.5 out of 10
DAVE BAIRD : 9 out of 10
YALCIN INEL : 9 out of 10

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