Monday, September 11, 2006

In The Distance, I Hear Them Devouring

Opeth – Ghost Reveries

I hate to disabuse my readers of their perception of me as a savvy, literate intellectual with my finger on the pulse of the underground, but I'm actually just a lazy fuck in front of the computer and as such I tend to miss out on a few things. Number one on that list at the moment are Tool tickets to the concert in January, but besides that one of my major musical regrets of the last couple of years is overlooking Opeth for too long.

After having more than a few people rave to me about this band I gave them a perfunctory listen before deeming them uninteresting and categorising them in the 'more dopey metal shit that I don't get' folder. Of course now that I've realised my folly and given them a decent chance, everyone else seems to have moved on. Saying you're getting into Opeth is very 2004.

Opeth fit comfortably within the death metal genre, and although some might argue with that statement, saying that they incorporate different styles such as jazz and folk and contrast melodic passages with heavy, aggressive ones, I would reply that this is merely a distinction between 'good metal' and 'boring metal'.

Ghost Reveries was a critical success but as you might expect most metal hipsters are dismissive of it in comparison to Opeth's older stuff, as they are starting to move vaguely in the direction of not being obscure any more. However they may have a point as besides a few excellent tracks, a majority of the album does feel slightly uninspired, but even a subpar Opeth album is a great album in general.

There is a loose concept to Ghost Reveries, dealing with death and the occult. Like almost all metal ever written the lyrics are fairly overblown and probably a little ridiculous taken out of context, but Mikael Akerfeldt (singer, lead guitarist and songwriter) manages to bring a fresh breath of literacy to the standard subject matter of satanic rituals on foggy moors, and after all, that is all that I really ask for from song lyrics. No matter how cheesy it is to hear about ritual murder in frozen forests, I can't deny that I get a real kick out of it when it's done right.

What really sets these guys apart is the complexity of the music (which is especially unique in light of how almost all the rock music popular today is influenced by the simplicity of punk). Most of their songs are ten minute epics with interlocking, recurring themes, and the parts themselves are a joy to learn as a musician, because there's always so much going on both rhythmically and melodically. The members of the band are all stellar musicians themselves, of particular note is the drumming and Akerfeldt's vocals, which are impressive not only because he alternates effortlessly between clean and growly singing, but also because he has some of the best tone in his death metal voice that I've ever heard. Sure some other guys are deeper and more guttural, but Akerfeldt is able to add a really nice crunch to his voice without overdoing it, so that it still conveys emotion (and sometimes you can even understand what he's saying).

So back to Ghost Reveries in particular. Even the naysayers won't deny that the opener, 'Ghost of Perdition' is a classic, even by Opeth's standards; ten minutes of truly epic heaviness punctuated by beautifully sad acoustic pieces, made only more melancholy by the fact that the song is about some dude murdering his own mother because the devil told him to. The next two tracks, 'The Baying of the Hounds' and 'Beneath the Mire', initially suffer in comparison to their predecessor but after a few listens they grew on me a lot. They both have intense moody breakdowns in the middle and 'Hounds' in particular has some inspired passages.

Unfortunately the remainder of the album doesn't quite live up to the start, 'Harlequin Forest' and 'The Grand Conjuration' are both decent songs with some great riffs but they don't hold together overall as well as the earlier tracks. They are integrated with a few acoustic(ish) tracks, 'Atonement', 'Hours of Wealth' and 'Isolation Years', which are all great but rather short and are really designed as interludes to the heavier tracks.

Of course, that's still six great tracks out of eight so it's not like I don't recommend it, it's just that there are other Opeth albums that are better.


Skarnz said...

There are people who don't think that you're a lazy fuck in front of a PC?


andrew brown said...

I heard a Opeth song on the radio and thought it was awesome. So I downloaded their discography. Good, but not great. I found a lot of the songs more annoying than anything else.

If you like that sound, but would prefer less of a prog-ness, I'd recommend Lamb of God. They blow Opeth away. imo

Jon said...

Skarnz: My legions of dedicated fans of course. I'm like Oprah for video games.

Andrew: Even though I am dubious about listening to the opinion of someone who doesn't like Opeth, I'll give Lamb of God a listen.

Jon said...

OK I just watched Lamb of God's video for 'Redneck' and it fucking rocked. I think I'll pick up their album next time I go to the record store to get more Opeth.