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  • Opeth: one of the most acclaimed bands in progressive metal, because of (despite?) their shifts between heavenly atmospheres and brutal heaviness and death growls — a band that has won over metal fans, progressive metal fans & metal prog fans, and critics alike — a band that continues to prevail over expectations and mature in various respects.And so we turn the page to another chapter in the Opethian saga, _Damnation_. If Opeth has any doubters remaining, this album will reverse their opinion or at least dice their credibility. As almost everyone knows by now, _Damnation_ is the “mellow” counterpart to _Deliverance_, which was their heaviest album to date. Its songs therefore converge entirely in the softer side of Opeth’s sound. However, I would like to emphasize that this is _not_ a collection of typical mellow Opeth songs, which most people were seemingly expecting. You should not assume this is an album of songs like “Credence” and “Harvest” — _Damnation_ establishes a different sound but maintains their identity. This is still unmistakably Opeth, from the atmosphere to the production (Steven Wilson is a genius) to the pristine excellence that is Mikael Akerfeldt’s voice.Even though it is the shortest Opeth album (eight songs, 43 minutes), it is probably my favorite. My reaction actually surprises me, since my allure to Opeth is largely their dynamic of light and shade. The symbiosis of those roaring black slabs of surreally powerful metal fluidly merged with the warm embrace of their placid, elegiac side is no small part of what makes them so powerful. But despite leaning entirely to one end of the Opeth spectrum, _Damnation_ is just….perfect — unspeakably well-crafted — preternaturally beautiful — enthrallingly poetic.Of course, it _is_ a “mellow” album. There is no metal, no growling, not even any parts that would be considered heavy by anyone but Grandma. Even though most people associate “mellow Opeth” with “acoustic guitar Opeth”, _Damnation_ is primarily an electric guitar album (with Steven Wilson’s enchanting mellotrons and pianos appearing at times). The difference, obviously, is that the soul-withering crunch of _Deliverance_ is replaced with a distortion soft as falling leaves and chilling as a late summer rain. Akerfeldt’s acoustic guitars still convey that sylvan atmosphere, but they usually supplement the electric guitars rather than replace them. Arrangements can be gorgeously transparent and light, sometimes little more than cellophane pulled over vocals. “Weakness” is a prime example of this crystalline sound in viscous minimalism. “Mellow” it may be, but the music does not lack ntensity. “Death Whispered a Lullaby” has a tortured, silvery solo that sounds like a mix between Tool and old Norwegian black metal. “Closure” is in my opinion one of the heaviest sounding Opeth songs yet, even though it is far from metal. It is heavy because of the plodding, extreme density of whole arrangement. Even the first stanza, just acoustic guitar and voice, is nerve-racking on its own. The middle and closing instrumental sections involve a frightening, devilishly soundscape. The guitar figure remains mostly the same but galloping drums, crunchy bass, and pallid distortion build and shift according to some twisted orchestration. Since this is one of the heaviest Opeth songs, the transition into the gorgeous “Hope Leaves” is all the more effective. This is probably the most beautiful Opeth song to date. A languished, frightened Akerfeldt sings over a simple funereal chord. It hits with an added sadness when you think the line “And I know you will never return to this place” is directed to “hope.”"Windowpane” is one of the longer songs and phenomenally gorgeous. Spirit-melting guitar solo, complex yet beautiful chord harmonies — with some measures more beautiful than any the finest Sigur Ros soundscape or the most enchanting King Crimson. Haunting lyrics and lush vocal harmonies a la Porcupine Tree. “Ending Credits” is an instrumental that sounds like the continuation of “Epilogue”, from _My Arms, Your Hearse_. A harrowing melody possibly influenced by Eastern European folk, supplemented by keys from the shadows, with mellotron here instead of Hammond organ.This is their third album produced by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. Wilson’s talents as a musician are also used for in the ghostly keyboards throughout the album — no synthesizers, however. They are organic, warm instruments: mellotron, grand piano, and Fender Rhodes. “In My Time of Need” is like dreamy symphonic rock due to its mellotron and slow harmonic rhythm. Wilson also wrote lyrics to one of the songs here, “Death Whispered a Lullaby”. Wilson may as well be a member of Opeth, because I believe he has become essential to their music (those background vocals!). The Wilson/Porcupine Tree influences in Opeth’s music have a lot to do with *sound* (the guitar tones, vocal harmonies, and vocal recording especially), but Akerfeldt himself is also adopting some of Wilson’s singing characteristics. Otherwise, I’d say the influences — like Camel and other Akerfeldt favorites — and ideas are too well-assembled with ingenuity to reduce _Damnation_ to a mere homage. In the end, it can only be defined as Opeth.The rhythm section shines like never before on _Damnation_. They have always an impressive rhythmic mainstay in this quartet (especially on _Deliverance_), but here they are given more breathing room and eloquently add to the music in more ways. The bass of (severely) underrated Martin Mendez remains deep and heavy despite the music’s overall lighter tone, but he beautifully engages the low-end to beautifully enhance the sound rather than encumber or merely follow it. Martin Lopez understands the needs of the music perfectly, and his hammering death metal drumming is stripped down to something that enhances the music in a more subtly articulate way.This masterpiece leaves me quivering like a post-coital concubine. This is ranked highly among my most beautiful music ever, but it is a unique beauty — a silent lacuna between rock and metal — the eye of the storm — complex and haunting and unforgettable. Whether you are an Opeth fan or not, you MUST check this out. It is a special treasure. If it doesn’t resonate immediately, continue exploring (it didn’t do much for me on the first several spins). Like all of Opeth’s albums, _Damnation_ reveals many secrets as its complexities unfold. I think _Damnation_ is probably the vastest of all their experiments, which is an exemplary feat. Opeth is a mythic band worlds beyond metal. Together with _Deliverance_, _Damnation_ reveals Opeth’s finest work to date.Note: The limited edition digipak is WAY nicer than the jewel case.

    Posted on November 21, 2009