Unless you’ve never even heard of the Internet, you know what’s going on within the Opeth camp. They’re signed to Roadrunner Records, their latest offering is titled Ghost Reveries, and it leaked about a month before its official release date. Furthermore, I’m betting that you’ve already heard it, and that you’ve already decided about its quality or lack thereof. Mainly,Ghost Reveries feels like a sequel to 2002’s Deliverance rather than a stand-alone album, which is not what I was anticipating nor hoping for.
It’s true that sleeping within Roadrunner’s fold has its advantages such as incomparable production and unrivaled distribution. However, the group will catch a lot of flak for being on that particular label. Song wise, more than a few elements from Deliverance have carried over to Ghost Reveries. An opus like “Ghost of Perdition” is a prime example of Opeth’s purported stagnation. Just listen to it, and you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. In addition, as they always do, conspicuous weaknesses rear their ugly heads: Mikael Akerfeldt’s clean vocals are perhaps worse than they’ve ever been, the transitions (something the guys have repeatedly struggled with) are fragmented, and the material as a whole sounds somewhat uninspired and too familiar. Conversely, though, Per’s keyboards (Spiritual Beggars) add another dimension to the assault, which can be heard in “Beneath the Mire” and the prog-tinged “Atonement”; also, Akerfeldt still possesses the power to write a helluva riff, though he frequently just strings them together without much regard for adequate cohesiveness.
Really, Ghost Reveries has much more filler than most other discs in theOpeth catalog. The former was a disappointment for me, overall, though I expect to revisit the album from time to time. Still, I think I’ll clutchMorningrise, My Arms, Your Hearse and Still Life for all my Opeth-related needs. One, er, two word review: all right.
No band in metal today generates such passionately polarized views asOpeth. Even other bands in the love ‘em or hate ‘em club like Dream Theater and Meshuggah have at least some fans that stand on less zealous ground, or metal fans that never generate much of an opinion either way. But it seems as though there isn’t a metal fan alive that doesn’t have a closely held opinion on the subject of Opeth. All eyes will be on Ghost Reveries, regardless of whether their owners regard Opeth as thieving, genre-watering sellouts or ground breaking, genre-bending master craftsmen. In order to provide a balanced dissection of one of the most anticipated albums of the year, we have offered not only a traditional review, but also several additional abbreviated opinions of Ghost Reveries.
Any new Opeth release is enough to create fervor amongst the metal community, but several factors make Ghost Reveries a pivotal album for the band. For starters, this is the band’s first album after their freshly landed deal with Roadrunner, and metal fans are interested to know whether the band has pushed for a more accessible sound in light of their new opportunity for increased exposure. Compounding that is the Damnationfactor, and the curiosity of if and how well the band will return to a heavier style. Then there is the absence of producer and collaborator Steven Wilson, who produced the band’s last three albums. Finally, the band added a full time keyboardist in Per Widberg. These and other contextual factors are manifested in different ways, and some more pleasingly than others, butGhost Reveries is without a doubt very much a product of Opeth’s career path and current circumstances. Put another way, they couldn’t have made this album at any earlier time in their career, and couldn’t have made a substantially different album this year. Unfortunately, few of the adjustments made for Ghost Reveries have contributed to the overall strength of the band. While no means poorly written, Ghost Reveries will nonetheless disappoint many Opeth fans upon first listen. Some of what rubs the wrong way comes from stylistic changes, and some from moments that evidence the band’s growing pains. Much of the uncertainty over the stylistic changes fades after repeated listens, but in general it’s difficult to argue that the band has made a change for the better.
News of the absence of producer and collaborator Steven Wilson (involved since 2001’s Blackwater Park) was celebrated by some fans, as many felt that Wilson’s influence was too pronounced on the band’s last three albums. However, his absence hasn’t resulted in any shift back to a pre-Blackwater Park mentality, and in truth, such a hope was naïve. Drawn up on the blackboard, the game plan for Ghost Reveries makes some sense. The band’s intent seems to have been to find a way to bridge the dichotomy between their death metal and mellow sides by upping the proggish quotient and adding more midrange clean vocals. In theory, this reformulation would result in a more seamless integration of styles. Theory is different from practice. In practice, what they’ve done is further reduced their ever shrinking death metal elements by spacing them out more and in some cases reducing the heft of their delivery. And besides, the stark dichotomy between their harsh and ethereal styles was a part of what worked so well for Opeth. The other implementation issue results from the band still learning how best to integrate Per Widberg’s keyboard work into their sound full time. Although well used during the mellow tracks and many of the quieter portions of the heavier songs, during the heavy passages of music the keyboard work often serves as an unwelcome distraction. This is painfully apparent during the intro to the second track, “Baying of the Hounds”, when the Hammond bangs along with the heavy riff work, and much worse, on the keyboard driven intro of “Beneath the Mire”, a song that doesn’t recover until its second half. But there are also countless occasions when Widberg’s work is well utilized as a more subtle support to the music, contributing to the mood without overwhelming the melody or compromising the intensity. One perfect example of this is during a clean passage of “Reverie/Harlequin Forest”, when he compliments the vocals and clean picking guitar pattern with a more restrained, “No Quarter”-like melody.
Opeth’s music has always been about moments. Their long songs and complex arrangements are difficult to absorb after a single listen, and so becoming enthralled with an Opeth song is a process that usually occurs in a step by step manner. An initial focus on a transition, riff or outro gradually expands as the listener grabs hold of other favorite segments, until eventually the composition becomes whole by becoming strung together by a collection of moments. Despite some less successful moments the songs of Ghost Reveries all contain enough strengths to hook fans ofOpeth’s recent work. Let’s be clear though–Ghost Reveries is the least ofOpeth’s highly impressive catalog. But it does have enough of what Opethdoes right to be a worthwhile and even impressive album. The heaviness, tone, style, and personality of Opeth are still present, despite being reorganized. These guys have tremendous talent, and even though some the stylistic changes are unwelcome, it’s hard to argue with a straight face that most of Ghost Reveries is not well executed. Although the album seems very flat after a listen or two, soon enough plenty of classic Opeth hooks emerge and keep the listener returning for subsequent spins.
The album begins with its strongest track, “Ghost of Perdition”, a heavy, epic song that would easily fit in with Deliverance-era material. As on that album’s title track, the band uses quite a bit of bursting, stop-start riffing that is somewhat reminiscent of a portion of the title track of Tool’sLateralus. Åkerfeldt wastes no time in breaking in his new, midrange clean vocals, which take some getting used to, but work well in most places. The poor quality mp3 of “The Grand Conjuration” that’s been floating around the net certainly didn’t serve the song well. Hearing a full strength version in the context of the album makes a substantial difference, and although the song is less consistent in its early stages, it recovers into a decent, if unexceptional track. Martin Lopez’ drum work is more interesting than the riffs, although overall the drums play a less prominent role on Ghost Reveries than they did on Deliverance, when Lopez’ crushing rhythms were typically right up front. Aside from the aforementioned clumsy keyboards during the intro, “Baying of the Hounds” is a well executed and primarily heavy track. The melancholy “Reverie/Harlequin Forest” fills a role similar as “A Fair Judgment” and “The Drapery Falls”, although it’s somewhat heavier than both. Each of the heavy tracks on Ghost Reveries is about ten minutes long, allowing them room to develop into the winding, dynamic journeys that are the band’s signature.
Three of the eight songs on the album are Damnation-like mellow tracks. These songs are spread evenly amongst the second half of the album, and include closer “Isolation”, the hazy, ethereal throwback “Atonement”, and “Hours of Wealth”, which is the pick of the bunch. It’s an incredibly somber, percussionless song that deals with the aching desolation of isolation and loneliness, and it simply radiates intensity. The end of the song consists of an extended Åkerfeldt solo and sparse keyboard accompaniment, and it’s pure fucking class. The slow, almost bluesy solo sounds like it could have easily come from the seasoned hands of a Mark Knopfler or David Gilmore. The tone and phrasing is flat out magnificent.
Ghost Reveries probably isn’t the album you were hoping to get fromOpeth, but is proof that an album can be both disappointing and enjoyable. Despite some occasional misfirings, it is difficult to criticize the quality of the album. Compared to the majority of releases, a 4.5 for songwriting seem a little harsh, but is fair considering this album is a little below the bar set by their back catalog, which are all 5’s and above in my book. Opeth are in a situation quite similar to where Iron Maiden were when they releasedSeventh Son of a Seventh Son. Although some fans had jumped ship before that time, most considered the band’s back catalog rock solid. At the time,Seventh Son… was considered by many to be a stylistic and creative letdown. History remembers that album differently now, although most would say it’s still not the band’s best work. Over time, Ghost Reveries will grow on some listeners that may be on the fence. If nothing else, it will provide endless fodder for debate.
Not one to easily entertain the idea of kissing the ass of any audience, be it band, label, or rabid fan, my nose is completely clear of any excrement. My shorts, however, are another story altogether. Brimming with the dung of disappointment, this Opeth fanboy is sitting in a steaming soggy mess over the band’s latest offering Ghost Reveries. It’s not as if there has been some sort of drastic sound makeover as regrettably displayed by Metallica or In Flames; while they do try out a few new tricks here and there, this is still the same Opeth that we have loyally followed over the years. So, why the low scores then? Right?
The Opeth customary eight or so tracks (half long and half REALLY long) spanning over an hour’s worth or more disc space is present as always, but many of the songs come across as a bit uninspired, awkward, and sometimes even boring. An enjoyable steak is one with little to no fat and is properly cooked. Keep that in mind, gentlemen. For an album that bears a title such as Ghost Reveries, few moments actually capture the haunting quality that has made them such a sought after band for so long. As highly an anticipated release this was, unfortunately it doesn’t live up to its hype. One attribute that I must say that has been improved upon, however, are the guitar solos. Far more lush and technical than ever before, these leads leave a longer lasting impression than many of the past. Everything else is pretty typical Opeth, only on a sub par level.
The surfacing of a couple audio samples early on left a bad taste in the mouths of many who claimed that the band’s signing to Roadrunner Records would spell the demise of the Opeth we all know, but I am sure that it was a mere coincidence that Ghost Reveries turned out to be less relevant than hoped for. They had a chance to take an assumingly greater budget than ever granted before and run with it, but only end up tripping over their own eagerness as far as I’m concerned. Being as huge of an Opeth fan as I am, it is almost certain that I will still be purchasing Ghost Reveries, however, I am sure it will probably never equal the rotation of Orchid,Morningrise, and Blackwater Park. Knowing that Opeth is a band that demands a patient ear, only time will tell if my gut reaction proves to be an everlasting estimation of an album gone wrong or a hasty judgment of yet another masterpiece. Until then, what I had figured would be a year end candidate for my Top Ten list, has been bumped off the charts by the competition. Such a pity!
I’m not going to bore you with a lot of blow-by-blow details here, just a quick background on my history with Opeth. With little exception, I’ve always taken them one track at a time, usually for a smoke break during my weekly radio broadcasts. My attempts at listening to their albums at leisure times usually ended before the album did. There was something about them that made it impossible for me to sit through one, probably a combination of things, actually. So, this may actually be the first time I’ve listened to an Opeth album start to finish (or close enough to it). What’s the verdict? Read on . . .
I like Ghost Reveries. I like it quite a bit, actually. First and foremost, because it doesn’t sound like any other Opeth album I’ve heard. It FEELS like one, but musically things have taken quite a turn, most notably the incorporation of a lot more progressive elements. The songs are also more dynamic, going back and forth from clean tones and vocals to dirtier tones and growls and back again, which definitely keeps you on your toes. Album opener “Ghost of Perdition” is the best example of this. The organ on “The Baying of the Hounds” gives a bizarre Southern-boogie feel to an otherwise dark , but still upbeat, number. “Beneath the Mire” works on the same level as the first track. “The Grand Conjuration” is arguably the best track here, thanks to several tonal and tempo changes. I’m a little disappointed at the inclusion of a dark instrumental and two acoustic tracks, though. I thought they got the latter out of their system with Damnation? Oh well. They aren’t bad by any means, just a little out of place here.
OK, so that was a little more than I planned on saying, but you know me – once I start talking it’s hard to shut me up. Ghost Reveries is sort of likeOpeth, Mach II – trimmed down and streamlined for your enjoyment, and unless you’re a total bastard, you will enjoy it. Much like Megadeth will never recreate Rust in Peace and Metallica will never recreate Master of Puppets, we can’t expect Opeth to recreate Orchid or Still Life. So you should try to appreciate this album for what it is and not dislike it for what it isn’t. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to take this one for another spin.
When one reaches a point in evolution where there are no new ideas or areas of expansion open to exploration; is it then the next logical step to cannibalize past incarnations of form? Is the proper term for such behavior then, not evolution, but parody or simulacrum? Who really are you the artist kidding with tracks like “Atonement”? When did the definition of progressive expand to include pilfered vague semblances of obscure 70’s artists?
Eight albums deep the arc of creative output can now be clearly seen as having peaked somewhere between Still Life and Blackwater Park, placing this band squarely at the end of a perfect bell curve. Full-time keyboardists who favor bigtop circus organ tone can not hide the fact that what began onOrchid as meandering and abstruse has come full circle and returned to a supreme focal deficit. The fifth year in the second millennia of this current era sees Opeth producing a flaccid and convoluted hour long album easily distilled and refined into twenty minutes of worthwhile riff work; suitable for background noise and sleep preparation.