The opening track starts with eight slow plucks at clean guitar strings, instantly providing the faithful Opeth fan echoes of their last masterful creation, 2003’s spellbinding “Damnation”. Then, at the song’s eighth second, the Swedes unleash their trademark attack upon the senses: thunderous guitars and singer/songwriter Mikael Ǻkerfeldt’s otherworldly growls. Any illusions that Opeth have softened are dispelled in the ten minutes that follow.
From here, “Ghost of Perdition” revisits several melodic themes that Opeth have explored before, all revering the quintet’s vigorous energy. The opening riffs, bludgeoning and powerful, are reminiscent of “The Leper Affinity” (off “Blackwater Park”). The softer middle section, with acoustic guitars layering Ǻkerfeldt’s harmonizing sounds like “The Moor”’s similar section (off “Still Life”). Finally, when the intensity returns, the double-bass drum melodies and unconventional guitars echo “By the Pain I See in Others” (off “Deliverance).
“The Grand Conjuration”, the album’s first “single” has everyone talking. It is what “A Fair Judgment” would have sounded like if it were to have been possessed by the devil. The main riff is memorable, but unfortunately overused for a 10-minute song. Opeth’s musical ADD, which is what has made the band such metal icons, was discarded in the songwriting process for this heavy piece, which I think jeopardizes the song’s lasting power (however, I might be alone in this ruling).
The song is also sandwiched in between two gems, the all-acoustic and hyper-melancholic “Hours of Wealth” and “Isolation Years”. The first of which begins with guitars that would make Days of the New’s Travis Meeks envious, followed by an urban, piano-driven section, whose tormenting vocals may remind us of “To Bid You Farewell” (off “Morningrise”). The song is perfect for the desperate man in a closing tavern with such lines as “Looking through my window, seem to recognize all the people passing by – but I’m alone and far from home – nobody knows me”. For a band known for its darkness and intensity, Opeth shine in tranquil splendor.
Despite all the similarities, the album is hardly a clone. Unlike many metal bands today, Opeth commands the genre in which they play and are far from using a tired formula. “The Baying of the Hounds”, a faster, less intense track, illustrates Opeth’s newest innovation: integrating keyboards into heavier pieces. Although Ǻkerfeldt (under Stephen Wilson’s wing) used pianos and mellotrons in their last two albums, they weren’t integrated into heavier songs and were found sparingly and experimentally. In “Ghost Reveries”, new fifth member Per Wiberg adds a flute-like sound to “Ghost of Perdition”, a funky twang to “The Baying of the Hounds”, a middle-eastern melody to “Beneath the Mire” and a melancholic ambience to “Isolation Years”.
Although this album wasn’t produced by Porcupine Tree songwriter Stephen Wilson (as Opeth’s past three albums have been), you can still feel the British prog-rocker’s influence in the mix. The vocal arrangements at the sixth minute of “Ghost of Perdition” sound shockingly similar to PT’s “Shallow” (off “Deadwing). “Atonement” hast the repetitive, psychedelic atmosphere that Wilson and company craft with every album, and the soothing, bluesy guitar solo at the end of “Hours of Wealth” is identical to Ǻkerfeldt’s solo in PT’s “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here” (also off “Deadwing”).
The album is not perfect (as no Opeth album is), with such erratic and scatterbrained pieces as “Reverie / Harlequin Forest ” and some weak points in “Beneath the Mire”. Maybe I’m the one at fault – maybe I haven’t yet captured the technical brilliance involved. But the album more than makes up for these faults. Opeth have proven themselves to possess metal’s Hand of Midas. Having done no wrong in their 8-album, 11-year career, they follow this pattern of excellence with “Ghost Reveries”. Hail, hail.
See also: Opeth – “Damnation”, ” Blackwater Park”, “Deliverance”