Sunday, December 01, 2013

Opeth: "The Devil's Orchard" and "Harlequin Forest"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Let's kick it up a notch tonight...

I came to Opeth, a Swedish band that has evolved from death metal in its early years to a generally more expansive prog rock sound to the point where it is now considered one of the world's leading prog acts, by way of Porcupine Tree.

It's not clear to me exactly how it happened, but the evolution of both bands, with Opeth becoming more progressive from Damnation (2003) on and PT embracing metal from In Absentia (2002) on, seems to parallel the close friendship of the two bands' leading forces, Opeth's Mikael Åkerfeldt and PT's Steven Wilson, a friendship that led to their fascinating and unpredictable collaboration as Storm Corrosion.

However it all happened, though, you can't be a PT and Steven Wilson fan, as I am, without coming across Opeth. (Aside from the obvious cross-influences, Åkerfeldt provided backing vocals on PT's Deadwing (2005), while Wilson mixed Opeth's most recent album, it's tenth, Heritage (2011).) And of course Opeth is certainly a worthy band in its own right, and I suspect a lot of people came to PT by way of Opeth.

Anyway, I can't say I'm a huge fan. I don't much care for the death metal stuff -- actually, I dislike it immensely -- and while its more recent albums are certainly more progressive, there's still that hard sound that is, well, just a bit too hard for me, and lyrically Opeth is just way too overwrought for its own good. (I've never liked, say, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden, all of which have been key influences on Åkerfeldt.) I like how Wilson incorporated some metal into PT's sound, but that's about all I can take.)

Still, there's a lot to like on, say, Watershed (2008), despite Åkerfeldt's sometimes growling vocals, and Heritage, which is as far from death metal as Opeth has gone thus far, is an impressive album. And so let's go there tonight...

Here's the video for "The Devil's Orchard," the second track off Heritage:

And let's do another one, showcasing Opeth's harder sound...

Here's "Harlequin Forest," from Ghost Reveries (2005), performed live at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2010 and released on the band's live concert album:

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