By now every fan of heavy rock knows who Opeth are, right? I mean, you’ve got all seven of their albums and rushed right out to buy Ghost Reveries, thus sparing me the necessity of trying to put into words the enigmatic orchestral splendor contained in the eight compositions, er, songs, right? You know all about their unique and proprietary blend of death metal, folk, classical and progressive so there’s no need to stretch this writer out of his comfortable, stagnant hole.
You’re gonna make me earn it, aren’t you?
My accidental exposure to Opeth is chronicled in the vast whatzup online archives, but it was soon after that I read exploits of this band. Despite being of the metal ilk, they weren’t tearing up hotel rooms or ravishing nubile nymphettes; they were preparing to record instructional videos with extreme musicianship. Even with the distortion turned off, the author was astounded at their intense technical abilities and intricate playing. As a testament to their skills, Opeth wrote Ghost Reveries in a new open tuning, forcing them to examine their parts and avoid any comfortable licks. Far from being intellectual or sterile, this process resulted in their warmest, most human album to date.
The 66 minutes of Ghost Reveries is a complex yet easily enjoyable album, giving instant gratification. But ultimately there’s a lot to digest. Each song goes through a myriad of changes constructed of many layers, and not a one is superfluous. To try and discuss the details of even one of these expansive, beautiful and brutal constructions would be like trying to describe a movement of a symphony, losing the essence in the details. But in broad strokes, expect brain-mashing guitars, growling vocals and pounding rhythms that transform effortlessly into quiet moments of mellotron, organs, acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, all done with such a deft slight of hand that you’ll never see smoke or mirrors. As on their Damnation album, the quieter moments really steal the show by setting calming, gloomy moods that are torn apart in a frenzy, warmly welcoming you into a comfortable house inhabited by the Manson family.
You don’t need to be a snobby music critic or fan of bands like Tool, The Mars Volta and Pink Floyd to appreciate and enjoy the music of Opeth. You can think that death metal cookie monster growling is silly and still find no shame in owning all of their past albums. You can also think that progressive music is sterile, classical music is boring and folk music is simplistic, and still feel confident in shelling out the cash to purchase Ghost Reveries. You are forgiven of all these preconceived notions and may go in peace.This review first appeared in WhatzUp in 2005.