A lot of albums came out this year. I maybe anticipated a few them a bit too much, and was disappointed as a result. Hence, I kept the hype for this album to a minimum. I’ve found this to be a sound approach, since it prevents catastrophic let-downs and allows for pleasant surprises. I’d have to put Ghost Reveries in the “pleasant surprises” category.
I’ve been a big fan of Opeth since I discovered them, but even with all the appreciation I have for their sensitive and equally brutal variety of melodic death metal, I wasn’t sure what to expect in this new album. The lack of Steve Wilson’s presence as well as the decision to sign with Roadrunner (a label known for putting out a lot of mediocre nu metal and “hardcore” music) both had me a little worried. I worried in vain – Opeth are obviously in charge here.
The balance between the songs at first brings to mind Blackwater Park, a fantastic album in its own right, but there’s more to this album than Blackwater Park Part Two. Steve Wilson may not be in the producer’s chair anymore, but his influence is plain to see: interspersed between the blastbeats and melodramatic classical passages are bits of psychadelia-tinged prog rock ala Porcupine Tree.
Another obvious addition to the music here is the full time keyboardist (who I believe toured with them for Deliverence and Damnation as well.) While there aren’t many big keyboard features, it has had a drastic effect on their overall sound. Throughout the entire album you can hear keyboards in the mix, blending perfectly with the texture of the guitars. The way the keyboards often work on this album also brings to mind Dream Theater, and in fact that influence pervails throughout much of this album (but if Dream Theater’s technical acrobatics are a turnoff for you, don’t worry – Opeth retain a tastefulness Dream Theater has not demonstrated since the Awake days.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s a good deal of restrained minimalism on this album as well. Chunky half-step thrash riffs pop up from time to time (but always topped with a signature Mikael riff to remind us he still eats hack nu metal guitarists for breakfast.) Coincidentally, they bring to mind Sepultura, the band that almost singlehandedly kept Roadrunner alive during the metal drought of the 90’s.
There’s also quite a few serene and ambient moments on Ghost Reveries, particularely in the last few songs. Overall this has to be the single most schizophrenic Opeth album thus far; it contains many uncharacteristically positive sections of more rock-based guitar playing, as well as a handful of Opeth’s most brutal blastbeats. It has moments even more peaceful and soothing than anything on Damnation, but is distinctly Opeth in its overall sound, and of course in the complex song structures.
If I can type this much about it when I have only listened to it twice, imagine what I’ll have to say after I’ve gotten a chance to really digest it. That will take a long time, as do most Opeth albums, but even upon first listen this is still an extremely agreeable listen. If you are an Opeth fan already, buy this NOW as you will not be disappointed. If you aren’t familiar with them already but are interested in immaginative alternative metal of the heavier variety, this is almost as good a place to start as Blackwater Park was for me. And if you don’t like Opeth OR alt metal, well… you’re probably not reading this anyways, right?