Music fans love to make lists. Top 10 Bands, Albums, Guitarists, Musicians’ Nose Hair; Bands’ Best Songs, etc., and we at Metal Wani are no different. So, when given the chance to rank the discography of bands specifically within the genres the different reviewers profess some modicum of knowledge of (in my case, progressive rock/metal), I jumped on the chance. And after some musings, I settled on ranking the discography of my favorite band: Opeth. It seems a fitting time to do so, as their new album ‘Sorceress’ will be out on September 30th, and the list will then change. I’ll admit that they haven’t yet made an album I don’t like. Most I like quite a lot, so I like even their lowest-ranked album more than many other albums out there. But I obviously like some more than others, so here’s my discography rating (limited to studio albums) — rated for my own reasons, my own biases, and with no pretense to be anything but. It will undoubtedly annoy plenty of fans who will scream at their computers at my distant name floating in cyberspace for ranking their favorite album lower, but they can always make their own list. I’m sure I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to go and read how I was wrong…
- ‘Blackwater Park’
This was the first Opeth album I ever heard. It was also the first death/extreme metal album I ever heard or bought, so this album opened a wide world to me, and changed a lot of the ways I listened to music. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals frankly scared the crap out of me at first. But after a few listens, things started to make sense and the rest is history. It’s also the most consistent album the band has recorded, and the list of classic songs on here is long and glorious. “Bleak,” “The Drapery Falls,” “Harvest,” and of course, the 12-minute title track — these have been staples of their live shows ever since. It was also the first time they worked with Steven Wilson, who produced the album, and added keys and some guitar. This album is their masterpiece and magnum opus.
- ‘Still Life’
It’s a bit of a struggle to rank ‘Blackwater Park’ and ‘Still Life’ since I love both albums to nearly an equal degree, but the former just beats the latter by a small margin. ‘Still Life’ is a concept album, and I love concept albums. They’re a standard feature in the prog world, so I guess it’s no surprise that 3 out of my top 5 are all concept albums. It’s simply a brilliant album of progressive death metal — the heavy and soft aspects play off each other perfectly, while the lyrics are some of Mikael’s most poetic, and emotional. He even named his daughter after the female love figure here. And the story of an outcast coming back to regain his true love, only to end violently, is a theme as old as the hills… but it’s never been told better.
- ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’
Opeth’s first concept album (telling the story of a ghost watching his love in the land of the living) and their third overall, was the band’s heaviest and darkest at the time. Named after a line in the song “Drip, Drip” by England’s acid folk band Comus, ‘MAYH’ remains one of the band’s most loved albums. It was a transition album — gone were the 10-minute plus songs and lengthy acoustic movements, and the result was a heavier, more focused, landmark album. It was also a time of change within the band, as they had lost both their drummer and bassist. As a result, this was Martin Lopez’s first album with the band, and bassist Martin Mendez joined shortly thereafter (the bass on the album was recorded by Mikael). And of course, this album contains Opeth’s signature song and long-time concert closer “Demon of the Fall.” There are few things that give me greater chills than the opening notes of this song closing a set.
- ‘Ghost Reveries’
This album was Opeth’s first to feature a full-time keyboardist in the form of Per Wiberg, and he made his presence known from the very first notes with his haunting keys on “Ghost of Perdition,”. The added atmosphere flowed through the whole album, and truly transformed the band into a fully-fledged progressive death metal outfit. They really always had been so, but this album, even more than the proceeding two, really embraced that role. It was sadly also the last album with original guitarist (in terms of recording, yes I know, he’s not technically a founding member) Peter Lindgren, and drummer Martin Lopez, who was forced to leave the band during their touring cycle supporting the album due to health reasons. ‘Ghost Reveries’ was originally meant to be another concept album, dealing with a man who killed his mother, but after “Isolation Years”, was written, the dedication to the concept was abandoned. What was left was what I think is Opeth’s most haunting, and perhaps beautiful album to date. It was a toss-up between this album and ‘MAYH’ for the #3 spot, and my opinion will probably change next week. Regardless, I adore this album.
This was the band’s second album, and the last album in their early style. ‘Morningrise’ consists entirely of lengthy 10-minute plus songs (well, not everything has changed) including the band’s lone epic — the 20-minute plus “Black Rose Immortal” which remains one of the band’s best pieces. Their sound at the time was much more black metal-based, in both vocals and lyrics. Musically, it contains the signature sounds of the time — harsh heavy pieces, with lengthy folk-based acoustic moments, and clean vocals. While few bands have done the style as well, these dynamics were perfected by Ulver years before, although not in as sophisticated a manner. This was the final album with drummer Anders Norden and bassist Johan De Farfalla. The album closes with “To Bid You Farwell”, which was the first song recorded by the band not to feature any harsh vocals (excluding instrumentals, of course).
‘Deliverance’ was the first new album the band put out after I became a fan. It was also the tour for this album when I first saw them live, in an absolute dump of a club the band wouldn’t be caught dead in today (not that I blame them, the place was the worst). ‘Deliverance’ is easily the band’s heaviest album, and it was meant to be the first disk of a double album with what remains their lightest album ‘Damnation.’ Unfortunately for fans, the label nixed this plan and the albums were released separately, although a recent box set has finally put them out as intended. That fiasco, along with the recording of the albums, done simultaneously, nearly finished the band off, or so said Mikael in the documentary on the ‘Lamentations’ DVD. Thankfully, things got much better when they switched studios and were joined by producer Steven Wilson towards the end of the process, and a fantastic album was the result. Both the title track and “Master’s Apprentices” remain two of the band’s most brutal tracks, and still are highlights when played live.
We’ve finally come to Opeth’s debut album, and it’s actually quite a shame for it to have taken this long to get here, as few bands have released better debut albums than ‘Orchid.’ Although things have changed over the past 21 years, all the elements that make the band what they are, and why fans flock to them, are demonstrated on this album. There are the long, epic songs that take the listener on a journey, the juxtaposition between the heavy and brutal moments, the delicate beauty of the soft, and finally, both the clean and harsh vocals of one of metal’s best vocalists. Lyrically, musically, and vocally, ‘Orchid’ remains their most black metal-sounding album. Indeed, in the introduction to “Under the Weeping Moon” on their ‘Roundhouse Tapes’ DVD/CD, Mikael refers to the lyrics as “absolute black metal nonsense.” However, the atmospheric and almost psychedelic passages of this album cause it to remain a fan favorite.
- ‘Pale Communion’
This is of course Opeth’s most recent album, and their second album in their new non–death metal era. This was actually my favorite album of 2014, and remains frequently in rotation. It is a pure prog, jazz fusion ROCK album. Yes, it is heavy in parts, but no one would ever call it a metal album. It’s the first album to feature current keyboardist Joakim Svalberg, who added an excellent and effective fusion flavor to the album, quite a bit more so than his predecessor Per Wiberg. This album also contains Mikael’s strongest and most confident clean vocals to date, and is highly melodic and emotionally driven. The previous album, ‘Heritage,’ garnered a lot of confusion among long term fans — those willing to actually listen to the album rather than scream about the lack of growls at any rate — and ‘Pale Communion’ continues in the style of slightly vintage prog with more complex jazz–fusion influences, and in many ways explains the purpose and direction of the previous album. Basically, it’s a flat–out excellent prog album, though much to the chagrin of metal purists.
This sister album to the aforementioned ‘Deliverance’ was Opeth’s first non-metal album. And it embraced their long-held prog rock love, especially for the band Camel, as anyone familiar with that band could tell you. More than any other album, producer, keyboardist, and occasional vocalist Steven Wilson’s influence can be heard. Mellotron abounds, his signature production style laid over everything, and he even wrote “Death Whispered a Lullaby.” I happen to love Wilson and everything that he’s done, so for me, this is all a very good thing indeed. This is one of the band’s most loved albums, so my putting it so low on this list is sure to cause some to sputter incoherently at their computer screens, and while I love it, it simply misses what the albums I ranked higher have. My main complaint with this album is its lack of tension and dynamics. As their more recent albums attest to, they can make non-metal albums and still have large dynamics, but ‘Damnation’ comes across as an album made up of multiple versions of the song “Harvest.” It’s a great song, but the album is so continuously mellow that while I love it, it just hasn’t stood the test of time as well as some others. On the other hand, “Closure,” when extended in a live setting, is as incredible a song as any they’ve done.
This is easily the most controversial album Opeth ever released, and caused many a closed-minded fan to jump ship. Although the second album not to feature any death growls, ‘Heritage’ was a much larger departure from their previous sound. Any pretense to metal, or even the general vibe of earlier mellow songs, were abandoned, and the sound of classic 70s prog was embraced. Much has been made about the sharp and abrupt musical passages throughout this album, which are very different from the smooth and almost seamless shift in styles that Opeth had been known for so far. Although jarring, this style reminded me of what prog legends King Crimson has done for long. There’s nothing safe about a Crimson album, and Opeth played nothing safe on ‘Heritage.’ And while the album works very well, it is inconsistent in execution, and at times, the multitude of styles and ideas seem to run over each other. It also contains “The Devil’s Orchard,” my least favorite Opeth composition. Still, this is a very brave album for a well-established band, and that willingness to push and not repeat themselves is why Opeth inspires such devotion among its fan-base.
Well we’ve come to the end, and my least favorite Opeth album. Now I certainly don’t dislike this album, and it has two of my favorite tracks — the incredibly heavy “Heir Apparent”, and the wonderfully experimental and quirky “The Lotus Eater.” However, it also has “Burden”, which is probably the most boring song the band ever recorded, even with the slow de–tuning of the guitar at the end. To be fair, however, this album was created at a major crossroads for the band. Peter and Martin Lopez had both left, and Martin Axenrot had joined as the new drummer. Now, Axe had been with the band for several years by this point, but new guitarist Fredrik Åkesson had only joined the band a year previously. He’s a fine guitarist, but hadn’t melded with the band as of yet, and the absence of Peter was certainly felt here. Lopez was for me much more missed in this album — he had a Latin rhythm, swing, and vibe that was sorely missed on this album. Ultimately, ‘Watershed’ has some great moments, but when listening to it fresh to make this list, I was struck again about how much it didn’t grab me like their other disks.
There it is, folks — the Metal Wani discography rating for Opeth. At least, as rated by me; what others would say is, well, another story. I have to say that I had a lot of fun with it, and my ranking stands, at least until the release of ‘Sorceress.’ That album, and the next step of the band’s history, will be dropped come September, and I for one can’t wait to get my hands on it.