FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 20: Opeth – Blackwater Park

Posted: August 14, 2012 by kingcrimsonprog in First Impressions Articles, Metal, Music Reviews, Prog

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 20: Opeth – Blackwater Park

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Volume 20: Opeth – Blackwater Park

This is the twentieth entry of my blog series First Impressions. In each entry I write about discovering an influential or genre-classic album for the first time and then write about that experience in a semi-planned, semi-stream of consciousness manner that is less helpful a traditional album-review, but which does contain more flavour.

You usually need to know a fair amount about Metal and the history of Rock and Metal to fully understand absolutely every point I will make, and having listened to the album yourself will also help. If you don’t have a clue what I’m writing about but still wish to read, having a tab open on Wikipedia to intermittently check anything you don’t understand, as well as a tab open on Grooveshark, Youtube or something Spotify-esque to check any musical reference points you haven’t heard will help too. Of course, that’s not to say I’m some more-metal-than-thou elitist preacher type, its just that having to give context or explanations to absolutely every point as it comes to mind would severely derail these articles.

In this entry, I will be listening to Blackwater Park by Opeth. Blah Blah progressive extreme metal blah blah fifth proper album…you know the drill. If you don’t know about Blackwater Park I find it surprising you can tolerate anything I’ve written on this Blog. I’m grateful, but surprised nonetheless.

Now, I should say I have actually heard this album before, possibly even numerous times. I have listened to it on long bus rides and when falling asleep and seen most of it live on the Live At The Royal Albert Hall DVD which I bought for my Brother and have semi-watched myself on occasion. I can also see in my iTunes that I listened to half the album on the 10/05/2012. If I remember correctly it was due to be the third entry in this series, and that was an aborted attempt at giving it the listen/write combo its getting now.

The thing is, it didn’t stick. Not a bit of it. In one ear and out my butthole. I’d go as far as to say I just heard it but I didn’t listen to it. I’d almost go as far as to say I think I’m biologically incapable of listening to it. I have never been able to get on with Opeth, and I have tried.

Now, elitist snobs would be quick to dole out the old ‘you don’t get it’ and ‘you are too stupid/impatient to get it’ cards, but without pulling out my nerd-wang, the thing is that I listen to, understand, have the patience for and enjoy a whole host of similar stuff, and it is for this very reason that I am often told I’d like Opeth, and why this entry was even written.

I like Camel, who Opeth are influenced by, I like Lamb Of God, who my brother assures me are mechanically similar to Opeth. I like Zyklon, Napalm Death, Cannibal Corpse and a bit of Deicide, who are as heavy as Opeth. In the years since getting into this slow tug-of-war with Opeth, I’ve also gotten into Riverside (this year, to be specific) who are always talked about in the same breath as Opeth by the kinds of people and things that I read, and furthermore I am on the very verge of getting into Porcupine Tree (it’s a matter of weeks) who’s singer/mainman is a frequent collaborater with Opeth and Opeth’s singer (Storm Corrosion exists, yo), a trend that started on this very record.

Basically, its not as if there was just no hope in hell of me ever liking Opeth. I didn’t stumble across them when I was listening to The Union Underground and Powerman 5000 all the time (still do a bit though, don’t let it bother you, snobs) and nothing all that heavier or proggier. I penetrated the black heart of fucking A Sun That Never Sets faster than I got into Opeth, but the fact that I did proves I’m not to impatient or stupid to get what Opeth are offering.

I’ve heard Opeth stuff from other albums too. I love the songs ‘Coil’ and ‘Windowpane’ and I quite enjoy ‘The Devil’s Orchid’ from the new album too. Then again, its not just the soft stuff either, I like most of ‘Ghost Of Perdition’ and about half of ‘Deliverance’ too.

I’m listening to Blackwater Park now, and at the five minute mark of ‘Lepper Affinity’ I’ve finally been able to ‘tune in’ as it were and actually even hear the music. It was hard going for that time not to switch it off and quit. And there in lies the problem, as soon as Opeth have ever came on in the past, my brain’s eyes glaze over and my ears turn dark purple and its as if the anthropomorphic brain just blows me raspberry’s and says ‘la la la, I’m not listening, la la la.’

Stupid brain, don’t you understand I want to listen! Its not a bloody Rhianna album or a Screwdriver racial hate-anthem, you big fool.

I have to say, for the first time, I really like Mike’s death vocals. They are to my (uneducated) ears slightly blackened, which I’d read but never noticed. When it arrives, I enjoy the piano at the end, it sounds both sad and mysterious and that reminds me of Final Fantasy games where something ancient and magical dies.

Next up is ‘Bleak’ which starts off very promising with a sort of ‘alternative’ meets eastern vibe (like parts of Queensryche’s Promised Land album) and a fun proggy drumbeat that reminds me of Riverside. I like how the death vocals are going here when it should really have big Geoff Tate melodies. It sounds really cool doing it ‘wrong’ as it were (Which it isn’t – wrong, I mean – but you know what I do mean don’t you?… its unexpected based on what I’ve heard other bands do).

I also like the dymanic pauses and cuts to acoustic, its something I always enjoy bands do, and I guess it’s the clearest similarity that Opeth have with Dream Theatre and that lot of Prog Metallers. I was often surprised that so many ‘casual’ metal fans would say Opeth and Dream Theater were similar when they seemed so different to a double-outsider like myself. Or say Riverside sounds like Opeth and Dream Theater. What an odd combo that would be, says my brain, in the past. But not now…keep up!

Four minutes and fourty seconds into ‘Bleak’ and the thing cuts down to a lovely acoustic section with some really satisfying fat low pitched notes coming in on occasions and later, a lovely little Gilmour-esque lead guitar noodle. The fog has completely lifted.

I’m doing it! I’m really doing it guys! I’m actually listening to the album. It is actually going in for the first bastard time since… what was it, 2005? I think I first heard them in 2005…. Seven fucking years for the fog to clear! Long time coming.

When it goes back to half-electric, I’m really pleased. When it goes fucking heavy at the end I’m in bloody love with it! Oh; Would you look at that, sure I’ve only gone and given it three stars on iTunes (regular readers will understand the significance).

Consider my ass won over Opeth. You win…. Fuckers.

I get a little break with the lovely Camel-sounding ‘Paterns In The Ivy II’ bonus track that is mysteriously out of place here in my iTunes as track three, instead of at the end where it belongs. It reminds me a little of Baroness’ new album actually, the ‘greener’ moments at least. Its full-on awesome by the way… I’d love to hear it with Cedric Bixler Zavala singing it though, I think that would be a world-beater of lovely proggy softness. Mastodon can make it happen, what’s to stop my fantasy becoming reality?

Next up is actual track ‘Harvest’ which sways its way on stage in a straw hat and a jean-jacket and you think its going to go one way, but the way that the vocals work is really, really like Camel. The Camel similarities used to put me off Mike, but with the ugly fog lifted it just works like Geoff Tate’s Priest similarities… you know, …slurpy? …Basically, my brain laps it up to put in its sticky collection of lovable similarities, located in the foyer section of my labyrinth of vague connections.

Oh and the sneaky jazzy ‘woo-noo-ney-noo’ tails added into the swaying, give it a brilliant new feel for the second half. And damn that solo is nice. I like his solo style. Is it Mike or Steve Wilson? I don’t know yet, but I’d like to hear a whole minute/two-minute long one, and see where he can go with it.

Another three star instant job.

You know, I attribute three things with clearing the bastard-fog. And I knew it was a fog the whole fucking time, by the way… but anyway; firstly, I got into Riverside and that helped a hell of a lot. Their mainland Europe jazz influenced modern prog shares a soul (if not a few sonic similarities here and there too) with Opeth. It pointed out that things weren’t hopeless, there was a door.

Secondly, Baroness’ new album. Wouldn’t have though it at the time myself, but there you go. I’m as surprised as you are. It opened just the right crack in my ears to allow Opeth’s foot in.

Thirdly; I’m only after listening to the entire of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave album and it put me in a massively good mood. That gave Opeth the confidence boost to bumrush the borderguard before he and his dog ever knew it.

I’m about two minutes into ‘The Drapery Falls’ and its got that slidey-echoey-possibly-backwards thing going on underneath a lovely ‘Dogs’ by Pink Floyd style acoustic twanger and Mike’s vocals suddenly go really nice and melodic for one quick stab.

Ok, it finally went loud/electric and now it really shares a soul with Riverside. The (non-blackened) death vocal is a nice contrast when it comes in.

At 5.55 the song sounds like a sick robot, like how Voivod do on Dimension Hatross. It sounds sci-fi, and I don’t know if that is Voivod-connection-related only, or if its got something to do with Sci-fI. Or Opeth. Or reality.

Even at this heaviest point in the song, its unbelievable how accessible the music actually is. It baffles me, as it has undoubtedly baffled Magnum Valentino for years, that I find it so caustically, abrasive and unpalatable… and how I’d face listening to Opeth like discovering my hand had fallen into boiling water… and, you, know need to ‘take my hand out quickly’ by you know, ‘stopping listening.’ The song is over now, and it was so pleasant and easy to listen to, and I’m just a dick… that’s what I am. What kind of knob gets an Opeth fog anyway?

‘Dirge For November’ which comes next sounds like a bizarre mixture between Pete Doherty acoustic demos (don’t gag unless you’ve heard them to know how it sounds like them) and Iron Maiden’s intro to ‘Moonchild.’ Seven are its unburnt fires.

Fuck me, does that lead sound like Camel though. Its bloody marvelous. I’m a little disappointed when the song goes heavy, I was enjoying that little acoustic track. I can see the Lamb Of God mechanic similarities now too. Listen to this track at two-minutes and then listen to ‘Descending’ by Lamb Of God and you can see there is some crossover between how Chris and Willie operate as how Opeth dude 1 and Opeth dude 2 (no Wikipedia at the minute) operate.

The fact that this is slow, repetitive and a little sad for a minute or so reminds me of Cradle Of Filth’s more emotional moments (don’t wretch unless you’ve heard them) and then at 4.30 it goes full-out Riverside for a few bars. Then the sad Cradle moments come back, and I wonder if My Dying Bride sound like this, because they are often sad as far as I’ve ever noticed (but again, they’ve got the fog too.)

The sad, proggy acoustic bit that follows is really interesting because my brain for once has no bloody band to compare it too. Its just a wonderful glass of fresh squeezed Opeth, no bits (of Camel and Riverside).

The next song, ‘The Funeral Portrait’ after a fade in of acoustics, has the first instance I’ve heard of Opeth being fun. Its got the sort of bouncy Pantera-rhythm that would make for an excellent fan-getting single. Was this a single perhaps? If not… why do Opeth hate money?

By the two-and-a-half-minute mark, every single riff has been gold. Have the stars. Have the stars right now ‘The Funeral Portrait,’ – you’d have to go seriously downhill to lose them after a beginning like that. Dear the past… play me ‘The Funeral Portrait’ if you want me to like Opeth, sincerely.. etc.

Also the drumming in that quiet little break is great. Oh, and the solo is great too. And the second one, where it goes a bit neoclassical. Seriously, did nobody think to try using ‘The Funeral Portrait’ on me?

Bastard! I’ve just noticed on the last listen, this is the first track I didn’t listen to! I gave up before the bloody pay-off! Well, it seems even I didn’t think to show me ‘The Funeral Portrait.’

Ok… my expectations for prospective Opeth-fandom have seriously and steeply been raised now. Don’t let me down now, rest-of-the-album.

Next up is the actual ‘Patterns In The Ivy’ as opposed to the bonus track, which I remember that I’ve heard before, but don’t actually ‘remember’-remember (out-the-butthole, remember?)

The keys, when they come in, are wonderful. Is that Steve Wilson or do Opeth do that naturally? Anyway, lovely track… over a bit soon though. I’d have had it open the album, if I was predictable in my album sequencing tropes. Or if I was taken to semi-misusing the phrase ‘tropes’ all of a sudden in the last four days, just because I re-read a certain Fear Factory review.

Title Track is up next. It’s the most Lamb Of God sounding thing so far. The main riff’s fat southern bend and especially how it sounded when it went acoustic that one time is hugely Lamb Of God. The death vocals sound the most natural and at home on this track.

I love the little tails on these acoustic lines. Do-wey-uh-ooooh they seem to say. You know what this whole section reminds me of, is the bit in 2112 the song, where he discovers the guitar (is that bit called ‘discovery’ ?) I’m surprised by how long this bit goes on for… but when it kicks back in, fuck me… What a sound. That would be monstrous live. I’m actually rocking forth right now in that suppressed British I-want-to-dance-but-I-better-not way. Also, the best double-kicks on the album ? check.

Ok, I didn’t think, I mean, really didn’t think Opeth could top ‘The Funeral Portrait’ and I never expected they’d play riffs like the one at the seven-minute-mark. I’d listen to a whole song based around that riff (in the way Sabbath and Pantera based whole songs around one great riff). Fuck-my-fucking-fog!

Also the way it goes on around nine minutes reminds me of ‘Terror And Hubris’ by Lamb Of God in spirit (not so much in sound though), then the cut to acoustic is very powerful. And is that… a hardcore riff? …like what Napalm Death like to use ?

OK. The great riffs keep coming. Eleven-minutes riff? Awesome-minutes riff! Its almost like the song is trying to make it up to me. ‘I’m sorry about the fog dude, I tried to get it to go sooner, but its brother was in the D.E.A. Its gone now, have some awesome to help you forget about it.’

That’s the album over. Ok, actually there’s ‘Still Day Beneath The Sun.’ Which is magical. The bit where he says the songs title is so potent. If he said something about like, suicide, or not speaking to you dad anymore, or deforestation…or whatever, it’d make me cry its that loaded and powerful.

Thank you for the comedy text earlier, Magnum (if that’s not you, reader, ignore the thanks). Despite the comedy it put me in the mood to give this another shot and it paid off so hard.

What a bloody good album. I think I’m going to go stick on Watershed right now and see if the fog-lift it carries through. Bysidaisies.

Comments
  1. One of the riffs near the end of Blackwater Park, the “dun, dun, DUN, DUN” into “nyeeeaaaarrrrgggghhhhh” section was a specific, intentional reference to the start of Moonchild.

    This made me laugh out loud and is very awesome. There’s a making of documentary too (http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9A01188846F4B5DB)

    I was thinking the other day how Ghost Of Perdition off Ghost Reveries is one of the most satisfying pieces of music I know. There’s not one thing about all the intricacies that went into making it the way it is that I don’t appreciate.

    When getting into Opeth, feel free to avoid the first three albums altogether. Tracks from them sound great live, but they’re from a time before Opeth were capable of what they became adored for.

    I don’t know what exactly happens at 5.55 in Drapery Falls but I DO because of the sick robot description. Excellent. You should watch the RAH dvd again now to let the live version of the album penetrate your brain more.

    Like

  2. Its in storage at the minute, but I will whenever the move is sorted more.
    Oh, and I listened to Watershed too. Is great.

    Like

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