Released: 2005, Roadrunner Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Many people had written Opeth off in the last year, what with a jump to nu-metal stalwart Roadrunner Records and coming off some old-schooler backlash to the acoustic-themed DAMANTION release and Mikael Akerfeldt’s resulting meltdown. But critics and naysayers be damned for GHOST REVERIES is arguably the band’s best album since 1996’s MORNINGRISE. With GHOST REVERIES, Opeth successfully melds the old with the new, delivering an album that will unite fans of MORNINGRISE and STILL LIFE with those who worship BLACKWATER PARK and the mellower tones of DAMNATION. The very dichotomy that left fans congregating to the respective polarities between DELIVERANCE and DAMNATION can narrow that chasm and rejoice together in what may very well be the ultimate Opeth album.
It should be noted that not unlike the great concept albums, GHOST REVERIES is best absorbed from front to back in a single sitting. There is no underlying “concept” to speak of but chopping this album up or, God forbid, choosing the shuffle option on your media player will most definitely detract from the experience. There are several references to certain songs in others and the album does seem to follow a pattern but calling this a concept album in the vein of THE CRIMSON IDOL would be false. Mikael Akerfeldt’s confidence in his emotive clean vocals is immediately evident but his distinctive growl sounds lower, more brutal and certainly more vicious than on recent outings. Also, Steven Wilson, a man who seemed to be evolving into some sort of Sven Gali for the band since his association with them on BLACKWATER PARK, is gone in favor of producer Jens Bogren. Many expected the progressive element that Wilson brought from his Porcupine Tree project to exit with him but if anything, Opeth drew inspiration from Wilson and Akerfeldt’s professed love for progressive rock of the 70s on GHOST REVERIES and added yet another unique twist to their sound. Per Wiberg, now an official member of the band, retains the use of mellotron, piano and slinky keyboards from DAMNATION and adds his own style drawn from Spiritual Beggars to cast a psychedelic haze over many parts of the album. This diversity leads to Opeth’s most accessible, eclectic album to date all while maintaining the integrity and underground appeal afforded to a Swedish death metal band.
The opening solitude of “Ghost of Perdition” is quickly erased as Akerfeldt’s guttural roar takes over, led by a fiery riff and some impressive tribal-inspired drumming from Martin Lopez. Akerfeldt wastes no time in introducing his clean vocals and the dynamic between the two is one of the most talked-about and respected in metal. At first listen, some may consider “Ghost of Perdition” (and its occult-themed counterpart “The Grand Conjuration”) the “safe” Opeth song, in that, the band delivers what is expected of them. The tempo changes, gloomy subject matter, death/clean vocal interchange, etc. are all there but there is a lot more bubbling beneath the surface, as well, with Martin Mendez’ brilliant bass playing being the most evident. “The Baying of The Hounds” kicks off with some Deep Purple-ish (does anyone else hear “Highway Star”?) keyboards and a bouncy groove to the verses. Then, from out of nowhere, a jaunty bridge slips in with Akerfeldt’s harmonized clean vocals and the first real sign of experimentation begins to show itself. Masterfully weaving between tempos (does anyone do this better than Opeth does?) and creating an atmosphere of sublime psychedelia, this track is among the best the band has ever laid down. Not ones to rest on their laurels, the combination of “Beneath The Mire” and the godly “Atonement” continue this path of eclectic diversity introducing an air of Eastern mysticism that is mixed with jazz- and blues-driven riffing. Fans of the DAMNATION album will revel in the tinkling piano and trippy vocals of “Atonement.” One half expects to hear Akerfeldt belt out “Father…yes, son…I want to kill you” during The Doors’ inspired melancholy. Bongos, mellotron and what sounds like a backwards-masked Indian sitar permeate through Akerfeldt’s soaring, ethereal clean vocals drawing immediate linkage to the acid rock/prog rock of the mid-70s. With “Atonement” and the somber and reserved “Hours of Wealth” serving as bookends, “Reverie/Harlequin Forest” falls right off of BLACKWATER PARK with its lengthy prog passages sitting alongside the blazing death metal growls and grinding keyboards. Album closer “Isolation Hours” contains the most gripping and pensive lyrics ever put to paper by Akerfeldt. This track makes British doom-sters My Dying Bride seem cheery by comparison and after 77 minutes, the glorious ride is over.
How can it be that a band who has unleashed so many near-flawless albums (this being number eight) over a ten year career still manage to reinvent themselves and experiment to create such a mind-blowing piece of work? No one sounds like Opeth and their distinctive flair for mixing masterfully executed time changes with death metal and acoustic passages has left them high atop a mountain that towers over an often stale music scene. The fact that Opeth signed with Roadrunner is moot since four of GHOST REVERIES’ tracks pass the ten-minute mark and anyone foolish enough to accuse them of “selling out” before even hearing a note from GHOST REVERIES must now be wallowing in their own spite. This album embodies everything Opeth has achieved up to this point and the only negative may be the inevitable question of how can they possibly top it? Simply put, GHOST REVERIES deserves the title of Album of the Year; the rest are left in the dust and staring in awe.
KILLER KUTS: “Ghost of Perdition,” “The Baying of The Hounds,” “Atonement,” “Reverie/Harlequin Forest,” “The Grand Conjuration”