Opeth - Ghost Reveries
Roadrunner Records – RR 8123-1 - August 30th, 2005
By Josh Phillips
For reasons unknown to me, I was never eagerly anticipating this album and I really had no expectations to prejudice me. As a huge fan of Opeth’s
work, I found it fairly disturbing that the impending release of a favorite band’s new album didn’t stir that much within me. But, I still placed that pre-order, received my copy and pondered what the hell my problem was as I tore through the plastic, without a hint of excitement. Well, whatever it was that kept me from building up my expectations and creating a bias for or against an album that I’d never heard, I thank it, for it gave me a view into Opeth
I never expected to find.
Though it may be considered blasphemy to some, I’ve never thought Blackwater Park
magnum opus, and really, not even a great album. Ghost Reveries
, to me, is the logical follow-up to Blackwater Park
. The band went off and did their light/dark thing (Damnation/Deliverance
, which I thoroughly enjoyed) and now are back to mix all of their elements together and create the album they’ve been meaning to for years now. But, unlike the sometimes killer, sometimes bland Blackwater Park
delivered to me an unexpected gem of an album, one that rivals even their best work.
There were rumors for quite some time before the album’s release that Opeth’s
new record was going to be more black metal oriented with an occult vibe, and subsequently, that was the basic concept I was entertaining in my head. Fortunately, the band went in the complete opposite direction, threw an (extreme) prog album in my lap and caught me totally off guard. I didn’t listen to any music from the release until my purchased copy was in my hands and I was greatly rewarded to find something that sounded fresh, new and real. And yes, you heard me correctly, this sounds FRESH. Many have claimed that Opeth
have gotten themselves stuck in a rut, but with the release of Ghost Reveries
, I certainly cannot agree. One thing will always remain true about Opeth
, and this is that they always FEEL like Opeth
, no matter what. Though honestly, I was entirely skeptical after I had listened to the first two songs off this album, because there were a few moments that didn’t SOUND like Opeth
at all. But, as the album went on, everything became clearer and clearer and as the sounds washed over me, it was easy to see that this was Opeth
, a band with some great new concepts and over an hour of amazing music in hand. Different, yet entirely themselves.
One of the first things I noticed as I played the record, is that Mikael’s death vocal parts have greatly decreased in number. What I also noticed, is that to my surprise, that hasn’t bothered me. Mike’s extreme vocals have always been some of my favorite, but in many places they simply wouldn’t fit in. The second thing I noticed, is the presence of Per Wiberg. I was extremely skeptical about the possible uses of a full-time keyboardist, but the effect is felt and in songs such as “Baying of the Hounds”, “Beneath the Mire”, “Atonement”, and others, I couldn’t see this record being near the same without him.
With these two changes, Opeth
has undergone a subtle makeover. Whereas Opeth
could’ve fit the tag of Progressive Death Metal in the past, they have evolved fully into an Extreme Progressive Metal band. In my opinion, most of Opeth’s
past records, if not all, have a very “cold” feel to them. Something that is hard to explain, but they all have it. Ghost Reveries
on the other hand is a very warm album to me and I think the decrease in heavy sections is part of what accounts for it. Listening to this record is like being wrapped in a warm blanket of Opeth
. Mike’s vocals have lost some of their tortured frailty and it is replaced with an air of confidence and acute melody we’ve never heard from him before. The keys and mellotron leaking through the atmosphere fill the album with upbeat sounds and the mood carries over into the excellent lead guitar work, which is again top-tier, even for Opeth
. As I listen to every song, I am constantly smiling, something I don’t find myself doing with this band’s other albums. Not because they aren’t good, but because they don’t convey the same feeling. This, to me, is the greatest musical jump Opeth
has taken since Morningrise
to My Arms, Your Hearse
, but it occurs in such subtle ways. If I had to compare Ghost Reveries
to the prior Opeth
catalogue, I would describe it as a cross between Still Life
with new, added elements, but this record refuses to be pinned down so simply. Mike’s prog obsession now pours through fully into the band’s sound and the potential they’ve had for that sound is realized here. Not on Damnation
, but here. Other new elements are added as well and the randomness of the compositions that drives so many up a wall are here and as wonderful as ever, and to my strange self, as coherent as ever. I adore the Egyptian carnival intro to “Beneath the Mire” and the absolute MAJESTY of “Atonement.” I’d like to have that song playing as I pass from this world, just so I go in a state of pure tranquility.
Let it simply be known that Opeth
has undoubtedly changed, and in my humble opinion, changed for the better. The subtle alterations in sound that bring out a new dimension in Mike’s vocals and the pure atmosphere of the music are stunning. Don’t come into Ghost Reveries
expecting to hear a full-blown musical makeover, but do expect to hear an Opeth
that has simply evolved. This album caught me as off guard as anyone and I was as skeptical as anyone. But, I listened to Ghost Reveries
with as un-biased and objective a mind as possible (not easy to do with a band that evokes such stark emotional feelings as Opeth
) and I was rewarded with an album that is simply great at its core. The band’s sense of melody is more impeccable now than ever, they are on top of their game as musicians and the songs fit together so well. Opeth
, unlike many bands, can tell a story, not only in lyrics (Still Life
), but in their music. In Ghost Reveries
, most everything seems to fit and flow.
This album grows on you and its hidden secrets and rewards hide well beneath the surface, but if you are willing to unlock them, you’ll find a record that simply dwarfs the majority of music out there. Trust me, I took my time to absorb this album, I’ve already listened to it numerous times, I’ve gotten over my initial negative reaction and I’m not just kissing the ass of a band I enjoy. Opeth
is a group that loves to experiment and on Ghost Reveries
, they truly branch out into uncharted territory for their sound. “Experimental” does not mean “bad”, just give this one the time it deserves and let it wrap itself around you. The heavy parts are still there, and in force when they are. But to me, this is a prog album. A relic of the past, yet a path to the future. Premium, premium stuff. Where does this rank in the Opeth
catalogue? Only time will tell, but I know it will be somewhere near the top. Now, instead of boring you further, I’ll simply point out some of my personal highlights. I hope you found my review as meandering as Opeth’s
music and love or hate it just as much.
- “Ghost of Perdition” 2:34 – 4:08 Initially reminds me of the two acoustic songs on the second disc of the Blackwater Park
limited edition, before drifting off into the emotional chanting of Mike, soon backed by a soaring lead. This section is repeated towards the end of the song, but accompanied by a matching riff and the drumwork of Martin Lopez. A great way to finish off the song.
- “Ghost of Perdition” “6:27 – 6:57 One of the heaviest riffs of the album with perhaps its best death vocal performance. Brutal.
- “Baying of the Hounds” 1:51 – 2:49 This section really grew on me. It is very un-Opeth
like and felt strange at first, but the sheer catchiness of it has me tapping my foot along and agreeing.
- “Beneath the Mire” Intro. It’s so absurd, yet awesome. I never expected to hear this strange foreign carnival jam bust out in the middle of an Opeth
record. One of many surprises and I adore it.
- “Atonement” The whole damn song. This is why I listen to music, pure and simple. You have to hear it, words would do no justice.
- “Reverie/Harlequin Forest” This is a perfect example in many ways of Mikael singing with a greater confidence and those clean vocals taking a more prominent role in the music. The clean vocal sections are followed by the bellow of death vocals and the twanging bass of Martin Mendez. Great light/dark contrast that works in a subtle way throughout the song. Also at the 7:19 mark there is a tremendous example of Mike’s clean vocal excellence and how he has done a great job of working them in against a heavier background.
- “Hours of Wealth” More examples in this light song of the soft changes Mr. Akerfeldt has added to his vocals (2:25 – 3:47, wow) as well as the presence of Per Wiberg.
- “The Grand Conjuration” Despite the way I feel about this song in proportion to the album (see below), Mike Akerfeldt’s death vocals are in tip-top shape on this track and it’s good overall, though perhaps the weakest on Ghost Reveries
. Really great vocals and I love to hear Mendez thumping around on the bass all over this track. Look forward to hearing it live.
- “Isolation Years” A perfect way to close out this album. It makes the chaos of “The Grand Conjuration” seem fitting because of the great contrast and the peaceful close it brings. Akerfeldt really impresses me with his vocals on this record in all respects and this is yet another example of the solid emotion that permeates this album.
- The performance of the band. Every musician involved in this album is performing at as high a level as I believe I’ve heard from any of them. Martin Lopez reinforces why he is one of my favorite drummers. He plays with feeling, something that most drummers overlook in favor of technical skill. While Mr. Lopez can certainly blast away with the best of them, the touch he displays in handling the softer segments of Opeth’s
music is amazing. Lindgren and Akerfeldt are always stellar on guitar, Mendez is a great, yet underrated bassist and is solid as his role continues to grow, while Per Wiberg's influence is part of what makes this record as great as it is.
- “The Grand Conjuration” This song seems a small amount out of place to me. While the record still flows very well with its inclusion, it’s undeniably different than the rest of the album and oddly enough, what I’d consider to be the weakest song on a very strong release. Could've fit the occult album vibe well though, had the band gone in that direction.
All in all, this is a surprisingly great record and a release that caught me totally off-guard. This may, just may, be Opeth's
best work, but I'm certainly not foolish enough to proclaim it that after such a short period of time. This is a must buy in my opinion and I also very much look forward to hearing it on vinyl. I repeat, premium stuff, premium Opeth
Official Opeth Website
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