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Opeth Damnation

By Death Chronicle, Contributor
Wednesday, April 16, 2003 @ 12:55 AM

(Koch Records)

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There is sadness in beauty. And there is beauty in sadness. Opeth are painfully aware of the bittersweet balance between the two, and the fragile necessity of finding release through the pain of expression in order to appease the agony of silent suffering. Such things are evident in their 7th and latest experimentation Damnation, a melodic masterpiece of lost love, betrayal, hopelessness and the incredible beauty that is born from the ashes of such acute suffering.

Rarely has there been a band that has been able to express emotion so empathically that the listener is overwhelmed with a sincere sense of loss so precise that it could have been their own. Opeth are absolute magicians in this sense. The music creates an ethereal, melodic atmosphere, forsaking speed and technicality for the simple beauty of heartfelt melody. Filled with acoustic rhythms, the occasional clean electric fills to complete the mood and the exceptionally beautiful solos you’ve come to expect from this band, the music alone is enough to induce a sense of sorrow and a strangely comforting feeling of acceptance of such a state.

This album also presents the most drumming freedom I have yet to see exercised on an Opeth album. To contrast the simple yet precise flow of the guitars and bass, Martin Lopez becomes a vital -- at times, driving -- factor in the flow of music. A truly superb effort by a very talented drummer, the album is abundantly full of pace setting high hat rhythms and irregular drum beats to keep any sense of monotony from setting in. Making various appearances on the album is Mikael Akerfeldt’s close friend and Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson, who provides some great atmospheric feels, courtesy of a Grand Piano and Mellatron. He also contributes some incredible backing vocals on several songs, which compliment Akerfeldt’s beautiful vocals to absolute perfection. Add to that the lyrics for the song, “Death Whispered A Lullaby,” and you have some pretty serious contributions by a phenomenal musician.

This brings us to the lyrical aspect of the album, which like all Opeth albums, is the most amazing facet of this band’s unparalleled talent. Mikael Akerfeldt delivers some of the saddest and most heartfelt lyrics I’ve ever heard. One is easily able to discern the source of the album title, “Damnation,” when listening to the various tales of forsaken loss -- as though Damnation is the only gift to be gained in living this life. Songs like, “In My Time Of Need,” “Hope Leaves,” “Weakness” and “To Rid The Disease” eloquently convey profound misery and loss and a sorrowful sense of resignation to a doomed state of existence. “At times the dark’s fading slowly, but it never sustains. Would someone watch over me in my time of need. Close to ending it all, I am drifting through the stages of the rapture born within this loss, Thoughts of death inside tear me apart from the core of my soul.” Anyone who has endured lost love, betrayal or sorrow of any sort should find some sort of release or cleansing through the beauty that Opeth have found in the grips of dark suffering. Certainly even Damnation itself can set you free.

There are only two issues with the album that could possibly have a negative effect on any listener, the first being that each song is uncharacteristically short. After 6 masterpieces with songs in average of 10 to 15 minutes in length, we find the longest song to come in at a mere 7:44, with the average song running from 4:00 to 5:30. This may tend to leave the listener craving the extended musical journeys Opeth has navigated us through in the past. The second is a sub-par instrumental called “Ending Credits,” similar in feel to “For Absent Friends” from the Deliverance album (which should be of little surprise -- Damnation was recorded during the same session). A mere 3:39 seconds, it leaves much to be desired. Overall, however -- this is yet another musical masterpiece, presented in a flowing, encompassing contradiction of beauty and sorrow as only Opeth can capture.

Track listing:

In My Time Of Need*
Death Whispered A Lullaby*
Hope Leaves
To Rid The Disease*
Ending Credits

(* Masterpieces of the album)

* * * * ½

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