Sunday Old School: Opeth
Band Photo: Opeth (?)
This past week, MetalUnderground.com has largely (and irritably for some,) been discussing the latest Opeth album, "Heritage," which has divided fans with its blend of seventies inspired prog rock. To understand why some fans are so upset about the direction, perhaps it would be best to take a look at the history of the group. Opeth was formed in 1990 in the Swedish capital by vocalist David Isbgerg and guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt after an argument with former band mates of Isbergs. They soon recruited bass player Nick Döring, drummer Anders Nordin and a second guitarist named Andreas Dimeo, though Dimeo and Döring left the group after their first performance. A number of lineup changes would follow, most notably the inclusion of guitarist Peter Lindgren (who originally joined as a bass player) and the departure of Isberg, with Åkerfeldt taking over vocal duties, in addition to keeping his role as a guitar player. They soon earned themselves a record deal with the then newly formed Candlelight Records and recorded their debut album, "Orchid" in the Spring of 1994, though due to distribution problems, it wouldn’t see a release until the next year. The album was positively received, with critics praising their blend of death metal with acoustic guitars and harmonies.
They soon followed "Orchid" with their sophomore effort, "Morningrise," which garnered even higher praise than "Orchid," allowing them to embark on a tour of the United Kingdom and a large Scandinavian trek with Cradle Of Filth. The growing interest in the band led them to sign with German label, Century Media, who released the groups first two albums in the United States (they had previously only been available in Europe.) Soon after the signing however, the band first parted with bassist Johan DeFarfalla, before splitting with Nordin, leaving Mikael Åkerfeldt as the sole original member. The first band first hired a new drummer named Martin Lopez before recording their third album, "My Arms, Your Hearse," which featured Åkerfeldt performing bass duties, though they soon found a permanent bassist in Martín Méndez. "My Arms, Your Hearse" continued Opeths tradition of releasing albums that were more acclaimed than their last, with many ranking it among their finest albums.
After Candlelight owner and friend of the band Lee Barrett (also formerly the bass player of Extreme Noise Terror) left the company, so did the band, finding a new home with Peaceville Records, through whom they released their fourth album, "Still Life" in October 1999 (though American fans would have to wait until February 2001 due to distribution issues.) As expected, the record was a hit with critics and fans alike, and continued the bands reputation as one unafraid of experimentation, showcasing blues and jazz influences, while retaining their progressive death metal sound. The album was written under harsh time constraints, which the band felt helped them create such a well received record and thus decided to use the same method for their next album, "Blackwater Park." While they found the conditions somewhat more stressful this time around, their theory proved somewhat grounded, as many critics consider "Blackwater Park" to be their best album to date. Produced by Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson, "Blackwater Park" earned the band favourable comparisons to such prog rock titans as Pink Floyd and King Crimson by several critics and has since gone on to sell almost 100,000 copies in the United States alone. The album also opened up new doors for the group, allowing them to headline shows in Europe for the first time and appear at such prestigious metal festivals as Wacken Open Air.
On the advice of Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renske, Opeth decided to write two albums next, one containing heavy material, the other more mellow. The heavy side, "Deliverance" was the first to be released, hitting the shelves in November 2002 and earned the group their first appearance on the American charts, peaking at number 19 on the US Top Independent Albums chart. The album was mixed by former Sabbat guitarist, Andy Sneap, who Åkerfeldt feels saved the album after he was highly unsatisfied with the production. "Damnation," the softer accomplice to "Deliverance" was released soon after in April 2003 and saw the band enter the Billboard 200 for the first time at number 192. Steven Wilson produced this album and also contributed keyboards and backing vocals to the record, in addition to writing the lyrics for the song, "Death Whispered A Lullaby." Opeth capped off this dual album experiment by releasing their first DVD, "Lamentations," which was filmed at the Shepherds Bush Empire in West London and featured the band performing, "Damnation" in full.
Controversy was soon courted when the band decided to sign with Roadrunner Records, home of such "trendy" artists as Nickelback, Slipknot and Trivium amongst many other popular bands, and some fans accused the group of selling out. The fears of many of these fans proved ungrounded when Opeth released their next album, "Ghost Reveries," which mostly continued in the vein of “Deliverance” and once more, was loved by many critics. The album also faired well commercially, debuting at number 64 on the Billboard 200 and becoming a top ten record in their native Sweden. Following the release of a double disc live album, "The Roundhouse Tapes" (recorded in Camden, North London,) Lindgren announced that he would be leaving the band, citing a lack of enthusiasm and was replaced by former Arch Enemy guitarist, Fredrik Åkesson. Åkessons recording debut with the group was the 2008 release, "Watershed," which also featured the debut of new drummer, Martin Axenrot, who had replaced Lopez in 2006. "Watershed" was a top ten hit in Scandinavia, topping the charts in Finland as well as appearing in the Australian top ten and peaking on the Billboard 200 at number 23. Just like the "Deliverance/Damnation" era of the band, they finished it by releasing another live album recorded in London, this time at the world famous, Royal Albert Hall.
In 2011, Opeth released their most discussed album yet, "Heritage." It polarised fans due to its total lack of growls and other traces of extreme metal, following more in the footsteps of the prog rock sound of the 1970s that Åkerfeldt so admired. Many fans praised the direction of the album, stating that the prog rock sound was nothing out of the ordinary for Opeth, and examples of this influence had been clear for many years, while many other fans felt isolated by the record, disappointed by its sound and what they perceived as a poor quality exercise in pretention. Nevertheless, the album is Opeths highest charting in the United States to date, peaking at number 19 on the Billboard 200 and entering the UK Albums chart at number 22, in addition to top twenty spots all over the world including Australia, Germany and Scandinavia. Since then the band has been touring steadily with the likes of Katatonia and Mastodon and will be performing at many of the biggest festivals in Europe this Summer, including Download, Rock am Ring and Wacken amongst several others. While some in the metal community feel that Opeth are overrated, others are convinced that they’re one of the most interesting and honest bands going today. Regardless of personal opinions, they remain one of the most talked about and acclaimed bands in heavy metal today.
Opeth - "When"
Opeth - "Blackwater Park"
Opeth - "Face Of Melinda"
Opeth - "Windowpane"
Opeth - "Porcelain Heart"
Opeth - "The Devils Orchard"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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