Wednesday, February 5, 2003 @ 11:45 AM
The first thing about this release, and quite frankly the only thing about it that I initially could focus on were the vocals. They are mixed in each song, the typical death metal approach with cruel and harsh emotion. Then you are bombarded with a delicate and beautiful voice that comes out of nowhere. The anticipation of what would happen next was overwhelming. So forgive me if I focus more on the singing/vocals than anything else. It’s overwhelming and imposing. Only in the last song are they in my humble opinion, mixed skillfully, and too full effect. The drums are very obviously carefully laid out. Both understated in the delicate moments, then double bass when the more brutal portions of the songs get under way. I am left knowing in my heart, this drummer was not allowed to cut loose the way I am positive that he can. It’s all a deliberate and calculated sound, and he is quite restrained. The guitars are smooth and take on more sustained notes than speed or scales. It’s all for mood, emotion, effect, and affect. All songs contain solos, but the riffing, harmonies and arrangement are what is important. Bass is not heard at all. I did not hear one sound from the bassist, at any time. I know he was there, but with the crystal clear sound of this release, he is not heard ever with any note, to my ears.
1) “Wreath”—“There are no words left.” No shit. The harshest death style vocals are over lapped, blending screams with grunts, all understandable. Both stretching at the register, while pushing the limits. Despite the death style, this reeks of pain and emotion. All laying atop melodies, harmonies and complex song arrangement. Riffing is exquisite, with an odd break down at around 7:30 minute mark. Hand beaten drums that sound nearly tribal are the bridge before the blasting solo. Moody and “clean” singing (actual singing… not just “clean vocs”) add a chorus part near the end of the song. Extremely long song, as most of these are. It both takes your breath away, and really pisses you off. You’re riled up because what you think will happen, does not. You lose the bet you made with yourself. It’s exhausting and maddening, but never once boring, as they’re too many things going on to bore.
2) “Deliverance”-- Starts brutal, but de-escalates very quickly into an epic proportion song. Those melodic singing parts come from far away, fleeting subtle touches. The song breaks back into the death metal delivery, with a cry “Look me in the EYE!” And with the transition to the brutal vocal delivery, so does the music. It becomes more aggressive where the drums really kick in, and the guitars become more nasty. At 8:30 we get an all too brief solo that blends right back into riffing and melodies. The pattern has been set, and is repeated from here on out. A study of musical opposites, brutal, soft, brutal, soft.
3) “A Fair Judgment” -- The most saddening and haunting piano intro that I’ve ever heard starts this one off. “What have I done,” questions the beautiful voice. “There’s nothing left here.” Is the answer. Simply stated this is a beautiful song. The guitars shine through with mixed European and Middle Eastern elements mixed with the melodic death metal approach. Beautiful singing weaves in and out of guitar harmonies, and there are twists and turns where you least expect them. Forget all you know -- the anticipation of predicting what you think will happen will ruin it.
4) “For Absent Friends” -- Short instrumental with haunting guitar work that is stunning with simplicity, and evokes emotion. Saddening, and memorializing.
5) “Masters Apprentice” -- YES!! The motherfuckin’ beast is back! Doomsday sounding guitars, head banging vibe, SIGNAL… This is one bad mother! The volume creeps higher, my head shakes harder, I forget any of the sad moments that have come before on this disc! Brutal, nasty, savage! Guitars are from every direction and volume level -- creating a hateful sound effortlessly. Outstanding screaming, rasping and lurching from somewhere below. Clean singing appears at around four minutes, and I am quite let down. Sure, it’s a “breather,” a “break,” but goddamnit! I was just getting into this song! There are those maddening black and whites I mentioned. Get used to it if you buy this disc. After two minutes of that… the BEAST breaks through again! YES! And that’s how this one ends.
6) “By The Pain I See In Others” -- Ready? This is one bad motherfucker! Intro is a piece of music that was played accidentally backwards in the studio. It was late at night, and it scared the shit outta them, so they kept it. This same piece of music begins to play forward, and tortured screams come through. Then the most horrific, ungodly death metal voicing speak… twisted, warped, and totally fucked up! Pants shitting scary! I cried, “Mommy?!” all to no avail. The internal war in Opeth is seen full-fledged on this song, here for us to peak into the window of their maddening trek into what they are, and who they are. A two-minute break of real singing ends, and we are left on this disc with those devastatingly evil vocals.
WHEW! I’m fucking exhausted! And “By The Pain I See In Others” is the primo song on this disc. The pattern that has been explained, then repeated, works like freaking magic on that song. I dearly love that song. Top ten of the year. But, you need to know, that most of these songs clock in at over 10 apiece. This is an experience -- it’s a ride. It pretty much commands your full attention at most phases. But, be warned this is Opeth, and no one gets off easy. It’s their rules, their way of arranging songs, and these are they way they choose to mix the vocals up. You’ve been warned……..
* * * * ½
This is a heavier and darker Opeth than we’ve seen in a few years. They’ve delved more into their melodic death metal roots, but yet, they explore progressive and highly harmonious elements as well. Opeth can only be described in terms of opposites. Black and White--there is no or very little gray. Full and minimalist. Raw brutality has a polish. The more tender and delicate moments are highly melodic, and more often than not, touching to saddening. But the raw brutality VS. the beauty is an inner battle for this band, and a war not easily won. It’s not won with this release. No firm grip can be caught on this elusive beast, by the band, nor the fan. This is all a study in musical opposites. Positives and negatives coincide and mingle frequently and easily due to the way the song arrangement are made. Opeth is everything rolled into one. It’s touching, brutal, vicious, nasty, tender, touching, saddening, maddening, complex. Many spins of this release aren’t enough to evaluate it very well. This is literally the kind of release that takes about 100 spins to get the full effect, because you miss so much on the previous spins. Richly textured is a vast understatement. There are too many small elements that are seemed flawlessly together to appreciate with only a few listens. Small harmonies bridged magically together, to produce an endless river.
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