Hello and welcome to the third of these weekly ‘Why I Want’ posts, that are slowly filling the internet with opinions that may or may not matter. This week, after spending some time looking at the potential greatness of Shadow of Mordor 2 and then politely asking book publishers to get off their arses and release all of Akira Toriyama’s work in English, I thought we should spend some time discussing music. Opeth specifically.
I used to be completely infatuated by Opeth, finding myself listening to their powerful, incredible mixture of death metal and progressive rock on a daily basis. Their records are legendary in the right circles. If you find yourself at a metal gig, you’re more than likely to spot someone wearing an Opeth t-shirt, and for good reason. The likes of Blackwater Park, Deliverance, Ghost Reveries and Watershed should be heard by any self-respecting metal head. You can expect each of these records to sound dark, intense and powerful, but Deliverance and Ghost Reveries carry an almost menacing presence, whereas Watershed and Blackwater Park are more about the technical, more progressive side to their game.
A level of familiarity had built up between Opeth and their fans. People were clamouring to hear tracks that covered all of their many bases. The layered, multi-faceted sound Opeth were known for was getting more and more popular. You’d understand, then, that for their follow-up to their masterpiece – Watershed – they would try to change things up a little. It makes sense that a band would want to experiment, of course, to change-up a sound they’ve been playing for years. This is why, in 2011, we were given Heritage. Whilst Heritage was a competent record, with the odd great track such as The Devil’s Orchard, it was more King Crimson than Opeth. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s iconic death growls were gone, the blast beats were gone, and for a large part, the dark atmosphere was absent. It was Opeth, but not as we knew it.
Opinion was split on the record. Some fans dug the quieter, more progressive sound, while others were left scratching their heads. Personally, I don’t mind Heritage, but you won’t find me listening to it all the time. Opeth had done a lighter album before (in fact, it was much lighter than Heritage), Damnation. Heritage was seen as a one-off for many fans, myself included. “Sure, they changed their sound heavily, but their next would be a return to the Opeth we know and love”, we all thought. Sure enough, time rolled on, but to our dismay, Opeth retained their Heritage sound. The death metal was gone. Pale Communion once again felt like imitation King Crimson, not so much Opeth. There were a few more power chords present than in Heritage, but the mix was still quiet. “They’re in an experimental mood”, we thought, “they’ll be back to their pre-Heritage days soon”.
Sorceress came next and I’m afraid it lost me. Once again, the death growls, dark atmosphere, and blast beats of old were gone. Sorceress was largely quiet, experimental and lacking in power, just as Heritage and Pale Communion were before it. The new Opeth is still metal, but not death metal. Opeth are dead. Long live Opeth. They seem to have forgotten what people liked about them in the first place. Fans flocked to Opeth like moths to a flame because of their unique mixture of death metal and progressive rock. The quiet, calm sections in an Opeth track of old took the edge off of a menacing, powerful metal song. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s death growls gave the band a scary, foreboding presence unheard of in most other metal outfits.
The intensity of death metal mixed with a jazzy piano tune, or something of that effect, gave fans a spine-tingling sensation that post-Heritage Opeth simply doesn’t manage. You’re allowed to enjoy the new Opeth, but you’re lying if you say you never imagine what it would sound like with a splash of death metal every now and then. I can appreciate experimentation within music, this is part and parcel of being an Opeth fan. There’s as much experimentation in one Opeth track as there is in most bands’ entire discography.
I don’t mind the new Opeth, but they didn’t need to drastically change their sound in the first place. Opeth was always a clever, multi-faceted product, which can surprise on every turn, often coming from the severe juxtaposition of their use of death metal and experimental progressive nature. New Opeth never lacks their experimental sound, but it’s often for nought without Mikael Åkerfeldt’s incredible death growls or their patented dark, foreboding and often menacing presence. Hearing modern Opeth is sad, like watching a close friend slowly losing their mind. You know that they still have it in them to be like they were, but you’re afraid of losing what you loved about them in the first place.