Blackwater Park

I get a lot of unsolicited CDs to review, mostly death metal bands with corpses and satanic goats on the covers, bands with names from a morticians text book and members whose names are full of umlauts. After a quick glance, these CDs usually go into the trash or into the hands of my Venisection neighbor. And so it was as I opened the latest brown puffy mailer. Opeth. Never heard of 'em. Their bio sheet says they are from Sweden (aren't they all?)... no umlauts but lots of funny little circles, and that this is their fifth album. But the cover intrigued me enough to at least put the CD in for a sample. Very heavy and passionate with an interesting riff, fast but not to the point that it becomes blurred. And then the singer started in with the typical death metal "belching the alphabet" roar. Had it not been for the progressive, irregular rhythm and raw yet focused energy, I probably would have removed the disc. Five minutes into this dark, heavy track, the meter changed to 3/4, the tempo slowed, and light broke out as the hard-edged metal guitars were exchanged for acoustic, the rough melody replaced by a real, singable melody and the gravelly voice traded for silken, clear vocals. Two minutes of this startling interlude and the listener was plunged again into the dark roller coaster ride. Other tracks continue in this chiaroscuro, taking the listener through the darkest storm only to surprise them with rays of sunshine and abating rain. Instead of being abrupt, these drastic transitions are expertly executed, going from one extreme to another seamlessly and naturally. There seems to be a common theme throughout the eight tracks, though I've yet to be able to find a riff or a melody that ties it all together. This cohesiveness lends a nearly symphonic feel to the album. Most of the songs range from six to twelve minutes and this band works exceptionally well in such a large-scale environment. The songs never become tired or repetitive due to it's depth, sophisticated song structures, progressive elements and use of dynamics and atmosphere. Lyrically Opeth is pretty bleak but intelligently written, but what do you expect with song titles like "The Funeral Portait" and, well, "Bleak." With it's simmering black caldron full of death metal, prog, folk metal and classic rock, this album is difficult to categorize but easily one of the most pleasant and surprising finds I've had in the last year.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, March 2001.