Melancholic and Mischievous: Breaking down Opeth’s 30 Year Musical Legacy

Photo Credit: Band Website

It’s been thirty years since Opeth was formed in Stockholm, Sweden and it’s safe to say their music just gets better with age. The Swedish band has established themselves as one of the most important bands in the metal music scene in the last three decades. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt has been the driving force ever since its formation. The band has released thirteen studio albums over the years which have been received well by fans and critics alike. The band’s musical core is focused on various genres of death metal and progressive rock which are presented in a more complex and progressive fashion throughout their albums. Till now they have had a distinct and unique sound that hasn’t been replicated by any other band.

The band’s debut album, ‘Orchid’ was released in 1995. While it is not reminiscent of the Opeth sound the fans are familiar with, it has hints of progress towards that sound. ‘Forest of October’ has a song structure that includes hard-hitting death metal vocals and powerful riffs mixed with occasions of acoustic sounds and clean vocals. This would set the staple of how the band would create their music.

Their sophomore effort, ‘Morningrise’, had only 5 songs that spanned more than 60 minutes. The song ‘To Bid You Farewell’ is personally my favorite from that album. It starts out slowly with those mellow acoustic guitar sounds complementing Åkerfeldt’s clean vocals. Then it transitions to this harmony of the guitars that was just icing on the cake. The album also has their longest song ‘Black Rose Immortal’ which is about 20 minutes. And boy, oh boy, you just have to listen to it. The band experimented with death metal elements with folk music and hints from black metal to capture that atmospheric sound. This also had a dark melancholic feel throughout that Opeth has incorporated in their future albums.

The third album titled ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’ was released to critical acclaim. It was their first concept album which included smoother song structures and sound transitions. ‘Demon of the Fall’ would be the perfect example of how Opeth had evolved. The song starts with the traditional death metal elements and slowly changes into a more melancholic feel with an unforgettable ending riff followed by an acoustic riff. ‘April Ethereal’ has crushing melodious riffs coupled with blast beats to bring out the band’s creative mindset.

Their fourth album, ‘Still Life’, is where Opeth truly becomes Opeth. Like its predecessor, it is still a concept album but with much more emphasis on the lyrics and the melodies. It felt like Opeth’s own take on a Shakespearean love tragedy. The album has an unnamed protagonist who is an atheist, banished from his hometown. He returns to reunite with his long-lost love Melinda who is referenced throughout the album. The protagonist and Melinda confess their love for each other while meeting in secret. These events lead to her murder by the village council and the main character going on a rampage against the ones responsible. The last song of the record, ‘White Cluster’ concludes the story with his public execution and his meeting Melinda in the afterlife. Other than that songs like ‘Benighted’ and ‘Face of Melinda’ include clean vocals with an acoustic guitar.

The fifth album released in 2001, ‘Blackwater Park’ is considered the magnum opus of the band. It was highly rated by critics. The title track along with songs like ‘Bleak’ and ‘The Leper Affinity’ blended harsh death metal vocals with clean atmospheric guitar sounds which made it a perfect meal for the death metal enthusiasts. Bleak felt like listening to a death metal concert in the first part and a short jazz session in the next. ‘Blackwater Park’ could be considered the quintessential progressive death metal song since it has everything you will ever need and more.

Opeth released ‘Deliverance’ and ‘Damnation’ in 2002 and 2003 respectively. The two albums are like the complete opposite of one another, dividing the band’s two most notable styles, as Deliverance is considered to be one of the band’s heaviest albums, whereas Damnation experiments with a much mellower progressive rock-influenced sound reminiscent of the golden age of progressive music. ‘Damnation’ according to Åkerfeldt was a way to connect with his influences of the 60s and 70s. The jazzy sounds and clean vocals have a resemblance to popular progressive bands of that era most notably, Camel. Songs in the Damnation album like ‘Ending Credits’, ‘Hope Leaves’, and ‘In My Time of Need’ captured a feeling of hopelessness, loss, and pain. The perfect songs to cry yourself to sleep to or think about the good old days that never happened.

The follow-up albums Ghost Reveries’ and ‘Watershed’ is considered by many to be Opeth’s best death metal albums. These two albums established that abrasive death metal sound fans can’t stop talking about. While listening to ‘Ghost Reveries’ you’ll feel a sense of uncertainty and boom, you’re hit with those complex drum beats and confusing guitar riffs. But in the end, they all start to make sense. Each song in ‘Watershed’ feels like a chapter out of a romantic English novel set during the Victorian era or a view into the lives of the medieval Scandinavian people. In a sense, it just worked beautifully.

While the next four albums, including the recent In Cauda Venenum, lacked the death metal sound Opeth has perfected, they certainly captured the essence of the progressive jazz sound. Fans like myself at one point absolutely didn’t like their new approach. I felt betrayed because I was so into their specific style of music. When I heard songs like ‘Sorceress’, ‘Heritage’, and ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ it sounded like Opeth but it didn’t feel like them. Then I remembered, well it’s Opeth. They aren’t death metal purists. They are their own genre and their own worst critic. I listened to them again and again and again and so on. After a while, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t like them at first. The lyrics made sense, the rhythm and structure made sense, and, in the end, the sound made sense too. These songs felt like a new and much more evolved Opeth. Some might say an Opeth that understood what it wants. Sure, some songs are a bit weaker than the others but it took them a few albums to perfect the death metal and progressive rock formula so I’m sure they’ll perfect the formula of progressive jazz. That’s what makes them so unique. That’s what makes them Opeth.



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