I’ve always argued that Morningrise is in many ways their darkest and most captivating album. Those who got into Opeth during their post-Still Life period, mostly starting with their Steven Wilson-produced breakthrough record Blackwater Park, usually tend to be disappointed by the lack of pristine prog sound and layered production work on Morningrise. It is true that Morningrise, as its predecessor Orchid, has a raw and dry sound compared to the band’s later efforts. I, however, believe that this is all intentional to help create the dark atmosphere on this album, which is simply unique.
Opeth has always worked with amazing producers, be it the godly Fredrik Nordstrom on Still Life or Steven Wilson on Blackwater Park onwards. However, they recorded their first two discs with another genius, namely Dan Swano, to whom they proudly refer as their “guide” in the CD booklet. It is the Dan Swano factor what makes the first two albums more challenging listens than their follow-ups, but once you can get into them, you’ll be addicted like you’ve never been before. I’ll even go as far as saying that if every Opeth fan heard all Opeth discs 50+ times, most of them would declare Morningrise the highlight of their career, as far as atmosphere and sheer emotion are concerned at least. Sure, Mikael Akerfeldt has improved his death growls and especially his clean vocals significantly over the years, but somehow it’s the raw mix, Mikael’s more violent and less aesthetic vocals, the somewhat murky yet fitting twin guitar harmonies and totally unique songwriting that set Morningrise apart from every other Opeth release.
Comprised of only five songs, none of which run under 10 minutes, Morningrise begins with the 13-minute epic “Advent” whose folky acoustic intro contrasts the immediate twin guitars that explode along with Akerfeldt’s blackish scream-like vocals. The melodies, both on this song and the entire album, are immortal. Lindgren and Akerfeldt’s twin guitars create amazing tapestries around each song, utilizing jazzy drumming from Anders Nordin and great bass work from Johan DeFarfalla. Unfortunately, this is the last album of Opeth enlisting the services of this solid rhythm section. Though I prefer their current lineup, I don’t believe Morningrise would have been so amazing without DeFarfalla and Nordin adding their touches. They both incorporate subtle jazz harmonies in their playing enriching the psychedelic passages on the album. During the breakdown of the track, Akerfeldt briefly sings clean vocals over a beautiful acoustic interlude. Inspired by the loss of a loved one (Akerfeldt’s grandfather), the opening riff on “The Night and the Silent Water” is quite possibly one of my favourite Opeth riffs, ever. The guitar harmonies followed by another acoustic passage are dark and utterly emotive. I especially shudder at the end when I hear Akerfeldt’s haunting vocal delivery where he basically whispers the words. Every song on this album has great acoustic guitars strummed in slow arpeggios. “Nectar” mixes colourful cymbal work and chiming bass lines that exhibit tight melody and a tense rhythmic feel. Once again we are presented a staggering twin guitar harmony during the middle of the song. It is almost shocking how many godlike riffs Opeth are using in their songs. They literally employ tens of changing riff patterns and incomparable melodies on a single track, with which other bands could more than likely write two full albums.
A whole review should actually be dedicated to the magnum opus “Black Rose Immortal”, the band’s 20-minute masterpiece. This song was actually intended to be on Orchid, but didn’t make it for several reasons. It opens with a complex drum fill and segues into an ethereal twin guitar harmony once again. The first three minutes feature tons of melodies, all of which are totally memorable and refuse to get out of your head. Then a brief acoustic section follows and at around the 7:00 minute mark enters an impossibly beautiful guitar riff. An even better riff comes up a minute later, around 8:15 and it’s right up there in my all-time favourites. Simply unbelievable. Sweeping acoustics return to the mix playing a dark, grim folk pattern enhanced by perhaps Akerfeldt’s best clean singing on this album. After hundreds of listens, I still hear so many nuances in this song. Note, at 15:00, how the cymbals splash in a distant corner whilst the bass throbs (only once) intermittently every twenty seconds as Akerfeldt and Lindgren’s elaborate guitar work continues to exhibit sweet Nordic folk melodies. The song ends with one of Akerfeldt’s most violent and longest screams in his career which could only be rivaled by his guesting on Edge of Sanity’s Crimson album (also written and performed by Dan Swano).
“To Bid You Farewell” successfully wraps the album up. It is sung in all clean vocals and contains finger picked acoustic melodies and touches on elements of jazz, folk, rock and even a blues guitar solo. It’s easily one of the best closing songs on any Opeth album. I honestly am not a big fan of the bonus cut as it’s just a demo recording from 1992 and has an awful mix. However, it is worth mentioning that it was later broken down into parts, some of which made it on “Advent” years later. Morningrise is a very, very big achievement and one of the best Opeth albums in my opinion.