Opeth finds 'Deliverance,' then 'Damnation'
By ALAN SCULLEY
For the Call
Over a career that now stretches back some 15 years, Opeth has developed a reputation as a risk-taker and one of the most fearless bands in metal when it has come to expanding its sound and challenging aud-iences.
Nowhere is this outlook more evident than in the music the group has introduced during the past year. For one thing, Opeth took the highly unconventional path of recording two CDs during a single recording session — each of which differed sharply from the other.
"Deliverance," released last year, is arguably the harshest work of Opeth's career, a CD filled with punishing riffs and plenty of Mikael Akerfeldt's signature roaring vocals. The newly released "Damn-ation," verges on delicate, with a collection of complex tracks that are melodic, pretty and lushly produced.
Shifting between such stylistic extremes, obviously, could confuse fans of Opeth.
But the dual albums are a risk on another level, Akerfeldt said. He noted the band's masterful 2000 CD, "Blackwater Park," greatly had expanded its audience, particularly in America. So following it with "Damnation" hardly was a market-savvy move for Opeth to make.
"I think commercially it was a bad move after 'Blackwater Park' because 'Blackwa-ter Park' was such a, how do I say, in comparison to 'Deliverance,' it was such an easy record to get into," Akerfeldt said. "And a lot of people, especially in the states, loved that album. It's their masterpiece of a lifetime. And 'Deliverance' is much harder and darker and difficult to get into.
"'Deliverance' could have almost ruined things for us, I think, because it doesn't have as many hooks or melodies as 'Black-water Park,'" he added.
Opeth, though, has earned the right to follow its musical instincts — even at the risk of confusing some fans.
Formed in the late 1980s in Stockholm, Sweden, the early lineup of Akerfeldt (guitars/vocals), Peter Lindgren (guitars), Johan De Farfalla (bass) and Anders Nordin (drums) made two albums that quickly demonstrated a sense of ambition.
The current lineup came together in 1997 when De Farfalla and Nordin left the band and were replaced by drummer Martin Lopez and bassist Martin Mendez.
The CDs "My Arms, Your Hearse" (1998) and "Still Life" (1999) continued to build the band's overseas following, but it wasn't until a fifth CD, "Blackwater Park," arrived in 2000 that Opeth began extensive touring in the United States and established a true foothold stateside.
The decision to create two new CDs to follow up "Blackwater Park" was not only daring, it created some huge headaches for Opeth. To begin with, Akerfeldt and his bandmates had to finish two CDs in the time the band would normally spend to complete a single CD.
That challenge became even more severe when the choice of a studio turned out to be a disaster. Eventually, Akerfeldt accepted the reality that the two CDs would not come to fruition at the first studio.
He decided to move the project to Studio Fredman in Gothenburg, Sweden, but had to settle a feud with studio owner Fredrik Nordstrom over the cost of recording at his studio to do so. In the end, Akerfeldt and Nordstrom settled their differences and Opeth accomplished its mission of creating the two disparate CDs. "Deliverance" be-came the intense aural assault that Aker-feldt had intended.
"Damnation," meanwhile, showcases a softer side of Opeth that never has been fully displayed. "Windowpane," for in-stance, builds an enticing melody around string-like synthesizers and gentle electric guitars. On "Death Whispered a Lullaby," one the most appealing tracks on "Damn-ation,'' acoustic textures blend nicely with chiming electric guitars. "Closure" boasts a decidedly folky feel.
The CD also gives Akerfeldt the opportunity to employ a singing voice that is surprisingly smooth compared to the guttural roar he often uses on Opeth's more aggressive material.
The struggles of the recording sessions, though, have made it difficult for Aker-feldt to appreciate the band's accomplishments. He voiced particular reservations about "Deliverance," which he said was the more technically challenging of the two CDs to record.
"When I listen to it, I only have bad memories," Akerfeldt said of "Deliverance." "I listen to a part and I'm like: 'Oh, when we recorded that part, this and that happened.' You know, it's just bad memories about that record. I can barely listen to it."
Opeth headlines a show today — May 22 — at Pop's, 1403 Mississippi Ave., Sauget. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show, which also features Lacuna Coil and Beyond the Em-brace, cost $16 in advance and $18 today.