Focussed, familiar and still exploring new musical territory
It's no secret that the completion of 2003's Damnation (the gentler and mellower sister album to 2002's Deliverance) took its toll on Opeth's vocalist/guitarist Mikael Ã…kerfeldt. The pressure to deliver not one, but distinctly two different sounding albums was not only at a price paid on personal level to Ã…kerfeldt (Both creatively and mentally), but also at cost to some fans who felt the division between both album's sounds split and separated the bands unique style from one extreme to the next, not to mention some who thought Deliverance itself was a little too formularised compared to past Opeth efforts.
With the troubles of the past now firmly behind them, Opeth (now a quintet with the addition of Spiritual Beggars keyboardist Per Wiberg (who has played in the band since the release of Damnation) joining Ã…kerfeldt, guitarist Peter Lindgren, bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez) finally return with a renewed focus on their eighth studio release Ghost Reveries (Their first for Roadrunner Records after their previous label Music For Nations folded). Anyone's who's familiar with the Swedish progressive death metal act's past work won't be anticipating a great musical departure from what they're mastered in the past, but having said that, there's a few new surprises throughout their latest effort.
Starting things off in classic Opeth fashion, Ghost Of Perdition touches upon all the band's unique traits with the first minute an imposing wall of straight out death metal, before breaking down to allow Ã…kerfeldt interjecting the first of many clean (And far more expressive) vocal passages. Lopez's performance is well up front and Tool like in places, while Wiberg's presence is really felt around the three quarter mark amongst the short acoustic tail end section. If the opening track was the sound of Opeth playing to fans' expectations, then The Baying Of The Hounds is clearly an attempt to broaden the bands repertoire with greater experimentation. Wiberg's lush organ sounds (Not unlike Spiritual Beggars) are immediate and upfront, while the riffing is very different from Opeth's usual style too. The song moves in between both death and mellow passages, with Ã…kerfeldt delivering some of his best clean vocal performances to date.
Ã…kerfeldt's desire to try out new ideas continues well into Beneath The Mire with the song incorporating some Eastern tones within Wilberg's keyboards. And while there's still plenty of Opeth's old melodic death metal in places, it's actually the atmospheric moments that break things up that are the most interesting characteristics of the song, with subtle flourishes of blues and hints of jazz working it's way throughout. The predominantly instrumental dream like feel of Atonement takes the Eastern themes of it's predecessor one step further, and could have easily been lifted from Damnation, while Reverie/Harlequin Forest (One of the albums real stand outs) represents the more traditional side of the band with the mix of lengthy progressive atmospherics, death metal and plenty of Ã…kerfeldt's majestic clean vocals.
Hours Of Wealth is by far the most stripped back track Opeth have ever attempted before, with only keyboards and a blues influenced guitar accompanying Ã…kerfeldt's vulnerable emotion laden vocals, while The Grand Conjuration returns to familiar Opeth sounds with a relentless assault that exudes pure progressive black metal, which only subsides in a few places before revering back to it's heavier starting point. The final (and shortest) song, Isolation Years (much like Atonement), is another track with a very sombre Damnation feel to it, and ends things out in a reflective and somewhat calmer manner.
In some ways, Ghost Reveries sounds very much like the Opeth albums of the past, but at the same time there's a lot of new ideas and elements drifting throughout every song too. To their credit, Opeth have managed to reinvent themselves and evolve once again (without losing their identity one bit), and released yet another adventurous and remarkable release, and one that won't disappoint even the most ardent follower.
(Roadrunner Records/Universal Records Distribution)