Not since my high school years, 93-97, had I been a fan of metal. After talking to a fellow college classmate about Slayer, I decided to take him up on his suggestion to check out the band In Flames. After purchasing Colony, and having the epiphany that there could possibly be great metal out there, despite the decline of The Headbanger’s Ball, and the obvious failings of the so-called metal bands dominating the charts in the US, I decided to peruse the reviews on Amazon to see where this hopefully resurrected metal fan needed to search next.
Everywhere I looked: Opeth. To boot, I had never heard such words used to describe a metal band: eloquent, majestic, beautiful, exquisite, touching, emotional, poignant, epic, delicate…ok, I must stop here because the references to positive transendence, though absolutely fitting, might give you the idea that this is not a heavy metal band at all.
And perhaps that is true. If there is a band in the metal genre which perfectly symbolizes the evolutionary certainty of all quality music bending the limits of genre, then Opeth is it.
No band has ever captivated my imagination and love for music the way this band has, and Blackwater Park is the album that started it all.
The escalating, soft tension of the opener, “The Leper Affinity” exploded into the most demonic of riffs. Not because the riff is pure evil, but because the melody, so seductive and oddly soothing, epitomizes true darkness as it is compelling in the true nature of sin. This band surpasses musical genius by honing the exact ebb and flow of extreme human emotions.
Throughout this 67 minute, 8-track opus, Opeth guide the listener through a world of vivid lament, psychosis, rage, reconcilliation, victory, and defeat. I do not know of any album (and my collection of pop/rock/hip-hop/jazz/jamband/soul/etc. reaches near the 2,000 mark) that ends so fittingly as this one, when Mikael exclaims, “The sun sets forever, over, Blackwater Paaaaarrrrrrrkkkkkkk!” at the album’s closing. At this zenith, the listener truly feels the inescapable suffocation of death, and the unfathomable possiblities of an afterlife. I dare any reviewer to name a band which can conjure such emotions.
What’s for sure is that Opeth accomplishes such seemingly impossible feats by coupling patient songwriting with flawless instrumental execution. Guitar players who instantly become enthralled with the idea of replicating the tasty guitar passages, pause for just a second. The tracks on this album are so layered, that if you wanted to produce the exact same sound live, you’d need a band to rival the numbers of your local city’s orchestra.
It is this thoughtfulness in composition that truly separates this band from others, and allows this album to rest upon the apex of metal along with its ancestor, Still Life (to this day I cannot decide which of the two reigns supreme). Every moment of this album, the extreme death/black/progressive elements and the folkish/melancholic-acoustic-doom progressions, accentuates the duality of darkness, in its most dormant and aggressive manifestations.
Together, these polar opposites collide to produce a musical experience unmatched by any in the metal field. Aside from pulling this fan from his metal grave, Blackwater Park ensures that this decade will not fail the world of music in producing an incomparable contribution to extreme/heavy music.