Genre: Progressive Death Metal, Progressive Rock
Brought together in Stockholm by guitarists Peter Lindgren and Mikael Åkerfeldt in 1990, Opeth added progressive influences and acoustic instrumentation to their brand of Swedish death metal. As the group progressed, it was very common for an Opeth live set to fly in several different musical directions and an average song lasted no less than ten minutes.
Impressed by their originality, Candlelight Records released their debut full-length in 1995, which was titled Orchid, and featured a rhythm section of bassist Johan De Farfalla and drummer Anders Nordin. Edge Of Sanity mastermind Dan Swano produced the band's ambitious second album Morningrise in 1996, after which they embarked on a brief tour with Morbid Angel. Century Media took notice and not only licensed Opeth's first two albums for the United States, but also planned on releasing their next album on both sides of the Atlantic. With the recruitment of bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez (ex-Amon Amarth) to replace the departed De Farfalla and Nordin, Opeth's third album, My Arms, Your Hearse, was released in 1998 to glowing reviews, establishing the band as a leading force in progressive metal with death roots.
Released in 1999, Still Life displayed even more of the band's prog rock influences, and the following year the band played its first U.S. concert at the Milwaukee Metalfest. Blackwater Park, titled after an obscure psychedelic prog outfit from the '70s, was released in early 2001. The album created a huge buzz among progressive metal fans, who had begun to lump the band in with other experimental metal bands like Tiamat.
Instead of waiting until the buzz died down, the band released Deliverance in the fall of 2002. The following year, Opeth surprised fans with the release of Damnation, an album that was almost completely devoid of any heavy metal trappings and focused instead on acoustic instruments and traditional songwriting. Ghost Reveries arrived in 2005 and proved to be a return to form for the band. Opeth returned in 2007 with Roundhouse Tapes: Opeth Live, and in 2008 with the all-new studio album Watershed. In 2010, the band followed up with another live album, In Live Concert At The Royal Albert Hall. The set was recorded at the famous London venue and featured the band playing their break-out album, Blackwater Park, in its entirety.
Opeth shifted stylistic gears dramatically for 2011's Heritage. While writing for the album, Åkerfeldt fell under the spell of the music of Swedish folk music, Alice Cooper, and many spaces between. The sound, while remaining Opeth's, is also quite different, far more prog than death metal. In fact, if anything, this is the sound of the band leaving death metal behind. The album's cover is loaded with symbolism depicting the change. Heritage was also the last Opeth recording to feature keyboardist Per Wiberg. The album was released in September on Roadrunner.
Opeth has spent over two decades steadily amassing a body of work that is at once possessed of a fervent and unrelenting devotion to aesthetic progression (and perfection) while simultaneously scaling the summits of power, mysticism and might aspired to by the group's hard rock forefathers in Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin.
The band's roots in the doom-laden shade of occult-infused Scandinavian death metal and dark romanticism are undeniable and will never elicit apology. But the transcendent emotional and melodic heights achieved on the brilliantly titled tenth full-length Opeth album Heritage, marks a new chapter in the storied quintet's career. Band leader, singer, guitarist, songwriter and long-running consistent member Mikael Åkerfeldt has reshaped the pathway forward for his artistic vehicle without sacrificing the hard won spiritualism of previous endeavors. "I've become synonymous with Opeth," he says, acknowledging his dedication to perfectionism and his studied decision making regarding the group's methodical and deliberate shifts. "I've been writing the material since the first album. I've been steering the ship for many years now and I'm quite comfortable. It's something that I created and the people that have been in Opeth with me have helped make this into a very special band."
The latest masterwork from the Stockholm, Sweden based virtuoso musicians is a mind-boggling dense maze of tempo shifts, off-time signatures, percussive experimentation and warped rhythms. It is all expertly melded together by a myriad range of emotional outpouring and breezy melodic optimism which soars above the songs like a woodland spirit surveying its forest. There are multiple hints of darkness but Heritage moves the band forward into broader dimensions.
"This album is not really an extreme metal type of record, I suppose, but it is extreme in a different way," Åkerfeldt offers. "It's intense in a different way. It felt right for us to do a record like this right now. Most of the people who have been with us for a while are getting into this album. They seem to like it as much as we do."
An Opeth album is created to be experienced as a continuous whole. In this age of downloading, singles and increasingly put-upon attention spans, preternaturally listenable Opeth albums like Still Life, Blackwater Park, Ghost Reveries and Heritage stand like shining beacons amongst an ocean of disposable short-term placebos.
"It's a slightly old school idea but when we put out a record there are no 'key songs.' It's the album that matters," states Opeth's frontman. "We'll never have a 'hit single.' By no means would I want one song to be more important than another. We always put out an album and I personally enjoy listening to entire records. That is the kind of art that I like. I like bands with strong albums as opposed to just a couple of strong songs." Opeth in its latest musical incarnation is as meticulous, focused and impassioned as ever. Yet those elements are presented with a newfound openness, spirited generosity of feeling and long visits to the astral plane. Heritage somehow pulls off the impossible task of doing more with less and less with more at the same time. There's plenty of room to breathe on the surface but peek inside and you'll be met with heady complication.
Åkerfeldt returned to Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson to mix Heritage with him. The pair have been friends for well over ten years. "We've worked with different engineers but we never had anyone that we wanted their opinion on our music apart from Steven. The last album we did with him was Damnation. He was busy when we were doing Ghost Reveries and Watershed. He's just one of those guys I completely trust musically. He's been sort of a mentor to me in some way. I've learned a lot of stuff from him about production."
The album artwork for Heritage looks exactly like how the album sounds - yet another deliberate decision. Åkerfeldt wanted to make a statement with packaging containing more colors and detail than pervious Opeth albums. Furthermore there is symbolic
imagery present on the cover that directly correlates with the group's past and present. It's a detailed illustration one can contemplate for hours, like Iron Maiden's Powerslave. Longtime collaborator Travis Smith is responsible for the cover. He worked from a series of references provided by Åkerfeldt, including Flemish renaissance painter and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder's The Triumph Of Death (recognized by metal heads from Black Sabbath's Greatest Hits), the works of Hieronymus Bosch (such as the piece used by Deep Purple on their eponymous third album) and The Beatles Yellow Submarine.
At the center of the painting is a tree containing the heads of each member: Åkerfeldt, Martin Mendez (bass), Martin "Axe" Axenrot (drums) and Fredrik Åkesson (guitars). The head of Per Wiberg, who exited the band after recording his keyboard parts, is falling off of the tree into a pile of ex-members' skulls. The tree's base extends deep into an underworld populated by devilish figures, representing Opeth's roots in death metal.
Nine stars dot the sky. Each represents a previous entry in the Opeth catalog. There's the epic debut album, Orchid, which uniquely melded death metal, black metal, progressive rock and folk elements into breathtakingly long and mournful compositions. Next came Morningrise, which fanzine Lamentations of the Flame Princess heralded as "perfect." The followup album, My Arms, Your Hearse, was called "a trip to heaven" by Metal Storm.
A concept album like its predecessor, Still Life marked even further progression. The Village Voice compared Opeth to King Crimson on Blackwater Park which CMJ called "a metal fusion of Pink Floyd and The Beatles." The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde collaboration of Deliverance and Damnation, which fans know were conceived to be a double album, was followed Opeth's totally captivating Roadrunner jewels, Ghost Reveries and Watershed.
"The sun in the sky symbolizes the new album, Heritage," Åkerfeldt explains. In the background there's a city on fire representing the decline of civilization with a line of people marching from it to nourish themselves with the artistic fruits of the band. "There's a crowd of people in line to get to the tree. Everybody wants a piece of us."
Opeth writes, records and creates albums for themselves first and foremost. But that isn't to say that they aren't gratified or inspired by those people grabbing fruit from their tree, because they are. "I'm not a complete attention whore in that I want us to have constant confirmation of how great we are all of the time," Åkerfeldt says. "But over the years there's been people who approach us who we can tell have been moved by our music or our lyrics. When someone comes up and tells you that they got married to one of your songs, that's big if you know what I mean. I don't need some kind of prize in the future saying what I've actually achieved in the music world. It doesn't matter to me. But individual things that we're being told by fans? That's what matters the most."
Luckily for those folks who are standing in that symbolic line depicted on the cover of Heritage, there's no sign of stoppage for the band. "Opeth will be around as long as we feel that we can put out interesting music," Åkerfeldt predicts. "The idea with Opeth is to do music we want to hear. So unless we can't do that we'll just quit.
"Every album could be the last of course," he adds. "It's not a threat, but we really want to honor that tradition of putting out records we want to hear. It feels like a little bit of rejuvenation with Heritage. We found a new sound we'd like to explore a little further. We just have to see where it takes us."
- Orchid (1995)
- Morningrise (1996)
- My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)
- Still Life (1999)
- Blackwater Park (2001)
- Deliverance (2002)
- Damnation (2003)
- Ghost Reveries (2005)
- Watershed (2008)
- Heritage (2011)
- Pale Communion (2014)
- Still Day Beneath the Sun (2003)
- Porcelain Heart (2008)
- Burden (2008)
- The Throat of Winter (2011)
- The Devil's Orchard (2011)
- Slither (2011)
- God of War: Blood & Metal (2010)
- Lamentations - Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire (2003)
- Deliverance & Damnation (2015)
- Collector's Edition Slipcase (2006)
- The Candlelight Years (2008)
- The Wooden Box (2010)
- The Roundhouse Tapes (2007)
- In Live Concert at the Royal Albert Hall (2010)
- The Devil's Orchard - Live at Rock Hard Festival 2009 (2011)
Mikael Åkerfeldt - Guitars (1990-present), Vocals (1993-present), Bass (1998)
Martín Méndez - Bass (1997-present)
Martin Axenrot - Drums (2006-present)
Fredrik Åkesson - Guitars (2007-present)
Joakim Svalberg - Keyboards (2011-present)
Nick Döring - Bass (1990-1991)
Anders Nordin - Drums (1990-1997)
David Isberg - Vocals (1990-1992)
Johan De Farfalla - Bass (1991, 1994-1996)
Peter Lindgren - Bass (1991), Guitars (1991-2007)
Andreas Dimeo - Guitars (1991)
Kim Pettersson - Guitars (1991)
Mattias Ander - Bass (1992)
Stefan Guteklint - Bass (1992-1993)
Martin Lopez - Drums (1998-2005)
Per Wiberg - Keyboards (2003-2011)