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25 September, 2005

Review: Ghost Reveries (Opeth, 2005)

For some reason, I always seem to write with a presumption that the reader will be aware of Opeth already.  If not, I'd better mention immediately that that Opeth are a credible death metal band, definitely not a standard 'kiddie-Satanism' act, but instead displaying a maturity of composition and technical ability unfamiliar within the genre (there are no verses and choruses, for one thing).  'Progressive melodic death metal' might sound odd, but it's an accurate description for Opeth's unique sub-genre.

'Ghost Reveries' was released almost a month ago, on 29 August, but I couldn't write this review until now. For the first few days of living with it, I thought it merely 'okay', but then began to 'get' it. As familiarity has increased, my opinion has developed further (hmm.... that sounds like my normal response to more overtly 'proggy' albums), and I now rate it as one of the best albums I've heard this year.

When 'Damnation', was released in 2003 some claimed that Opeth, under the influence of Steven Wilson (producer of the three Opeth albums 2001-2003, but not 'Ghost Reveries', due to scheduling conflicts), had 'clearly' moved on from their death metal origins. However, they had misunderstood the nature of that project, and that 'Damnation' was the non-metal twin of it's full-on metal companion album, 'Deliverance', recorded during the same sessions. Hopefully, all such misunderstandings can now be forgotten, as 'Ghost Reveries' is an emphatic return to the pre-existing Opeth formula of death metal interspersed by, even intermingled with, lighter material.
The start of the album could be interpreted as a statement of intent - the first seven seconds could be a continuation of 'Damnation', but lead straight into perhaps the heaviest material on the album.

There are those who just don't like death metal, and the 'cookie monster' style of vocals. I'm afraid there's no avoiding them, and if the death metal growl is an insurmountable barrier, you needn't read on.
Personally, death metal lyrics don't remotely interest me, so I'm more than happy to accept Mikael Åkerfeldt's growl simply as an instrument contributing to an overall sound I like immensely, just as I like Jónsi Birgisson's falsetto as a contribution to the Sigur Rós sound, irrespective of the fact that Jónsi's Hopelandic lyrics are literally meaningless. Hence, once one passes the initial shock of Mikael's metal vocals, I do like them, especially in combination with his excellent 'clean' vocals – he doesn't only growl!

In fact, on repeat listening, I only think of two sections, perhaps 3-5 minutes of the 67 min. album as 'very heavy'; the rest is little heavier than, well, Porcupine Tree. This is certainly the most 'prog' of Opeth's albums. As usual, the songs are of stereotypical 'prog' length: four of the eight are over ten minutes long and only one is slightly under four minutes long.

A major change is that Opeth are now a five-piece band. Steven Wilson had contributed relatively isolated keyboard fills on the foregoing three albums, but Per Wiberg has joined as a full member, on mellotrons, organs and pianos. I wouldn't say that the keyboards take greater prominence than on previous albums, but the sound is frequently 'rounded out' nicely. This development may have more impact on live performances.

I was momentarily concerned by a couple of sections in the first two tracks, thinking them a little too 'obvious' and simplistically catchy, but they're the exception, and assimilated into the overall pieces, work rather well. In particular, there's something all-too-similar to Symphony X-style prog metal rubbish two minutes into 'The Baying Of The Hounds', but that misjudged interlude only lasts for less than a minute.

I'm not sure whether this is correct, but I've read that the outro of 'Atonement' (from 5:24 to the end) is actually 'Reverie', and that the CD is wrongly indexed. That'd make it 'Atonement/Reverie' and 'Harlequin Forest', not 'Atonement' and 'Reverie/Harlequin Forest', as listed. I feel the album sounds best played as one continuous composition rather than as isolated songs. In this context, I don't think the positioning of track divisions makes a huge difference, though some might disagree.

This album (and band) mightn't be for everyone, but I certainly recommend it. If anyone is tempted, I'd urge you to play the album or samples more than once – this isn't instantly-gratifying easy listening.

Comments

After listening to the album for the first time i was sceptical of the quality, but after a week or so i too began to realize that this album is right up there with "Morningrise" as one of Opeth's most outstanding albums.

Posted by George at October 24, 2005 12:46 AM
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