The Swedish prog-metal colossus, OPETH, reached a definite, stylistic pinnacle on their 2001 outing “Blackwater Park,” with the album perfectly summarizing their evolutionary journey that had started on their 1996 debut, “Morningrise.” They had rather poignantly explored the dynamics of the harsh and brutal death metal sound and the lighter, more progressive acoustic style for five albums’ worth of material up to this point. In the light of their later experimentations, it is easy to see that they were not the band to settle for releasing a re-run of their latest endeavor, no matter how absolutely stunning it was. So, after releasing a monumental classic that transcended the limits of death metal, what did these Swedes have in mind? Well, nothing less than to keep pushing the boundaries even further. What could have been a better way to plunge deeper into the unknown than a double album, with the first half presenting the band at its absolute heaviest and the second half reaching for the opposite extreme! Eventually, the band’s record label, Music for Nations, decided against the idea of a double album but the band held on to the idea and recorded two albums in the same sessions. First, they released the heavier selection of songs under the album title, “Deliverance,” on November 12th, 2002, and 5 months later, their stunning show of strength in terms of soft, vintage-tinted prog saw the light of day with the album title, “Damnation.” Sandwiched between two haunting, extraordinary efforts in their spectacular back-catalog, “Deliverance,” seems maybe a little bit underrated in retrospect – but it’s damn well worth a closer look. At the time of its release, the outing was easily one of the heaviest albums they had released after “My Arms, Your Hearse.” Yes, there are substantially fewer acoustic breaks in between the bone-crushing riffs but still, the album is not entirely about auditive kicks in the teeth; in a true OPETH fashion, there is a lot of contrast between the onslaught of brutal death-metal riffs and the softer moments.
The album kicks off with a relentless outburst of sound and fury. The opening track, “Wreath,” steamrolls forward with nothing short of a soul-crushing momentum, with vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt delivering some of his most wicked growls. Of course, the guitar riffs are bouncing to and fro with enough progressive twists and turns to remind you that this is OPETH, not SLAYER you’re listening to. Then again, also the signature style of the drummer, Martin Lopez, resonates by default with the subtle air of vintage prog even during the most brutal and hard-hitting passages. So, it would be next to impossible to mistake the song for anything else than OPETH.
The absolute stand-out song on the album is the title track. Not only does it have the most awe-inspiring outro in the history of progressive metal but it masterfully plays with the stark contrast between the brutal and the ethereal. In a way, the song heralded the lengths at which OPETH would later explore the realms of progressive death metal on such magnificent albums as “Ghost Reveries” (2006) and “Watershed” (2008). (I must admit that I am a late convert in the parish of OPETH fanboys: I first heard this song at the Ruisrock festival in 2006. To say I was totally blown away by the diabolical off-kilter groove of the outro would be a drastic understatement – I bought the album the next Monday!)
Of course, heavy as the album was, it could not possibly have been a true OPETH offering without a track or two stepping completely outside the brutal death-metal stall. First up, “A Fair Judgement” is a beautiful, piano-driven song that has no death-metal growls whatsoever. It is a song that could just as well have fitted “Damnation.” Here, it serves as a smooth bridge into “For Absent Friends,” which is a jazzy guitar instrumental with lots of ambiance and space between the notes. Åkerfeldt‘s guitar tone and phrasing are, as usual, simply phenomenal. I’m pretty sure it is not by far a coincidence that the 1971 GENESIS album, “Nursery Cryme,” has a song with exactly the same title. Considering the flow of the album, “For Absent Friends” works to a somewhat similar effect as the piano interlude, “Patterns in the Ivy,” did on “Blackwater Park.”
The short breather leads into “Master’s Apprentice,” which is a truly massive, dynamic prog-metal epic. It has some of the most serene and beautiful moments on the album, followed by some of the band’s most sinister and brutal goblin growls. For quite the obvious reasons, the live rendition of the song has become a fan favorite; even now, as OPETH has plunged headlong into the realms of vintage prog, fans still voice their unfathomable yearning online for this song to be included in the band’s live sets to come. I can’t blame them: I’ve heard it live once and it really did work like magic!
The album brings the darkly shaded journey to a close with a mesmerizing interplay of raging riffs and acoustic passages on “By the Pain I See in Others.” Halfway into the track, the circus-music break nicely resonates with the same vibe as the 2005 PORCUPINE TREE song, “Mellotron Scratch,” on which Åkerfeldt features some of his most soulful vocals. The frontman of this British prog bunch, Steven Wilson, was actually called in to co-produce “Deliverance” at some point and the album features him on several tracks, dropping some additional guitars, piano, or backing vocals.
Rolling out some of their heaviest riffs and other-worldly growls of the darkest degree, “Deliverance” is quite an uncompromising OPETH listen. However, it also has a good pinch of that beautiful, vintage-proggy sophistication that we have grown accustomed to on their later releases. Once again, the beauty of the album comes from the stark contrast between the brutal and the frail. Twenty years later, “Deliverance” still sounds like a solid progressive death-metal offering – maybe not as amazing as “Blackwater Park” or “Ghost Reveries,” but a worthy installment in the band’s catalog all the same.
Written by Jani Lehtinen
- A Fair Judgement
- For Absent Friends
- Master’s Apprentice
- By the Pain I See in Others
Mikael Åkerfeldt – vocals, guitars
Peter Lindgren – guitars
Martin Méndez – bass
Martin Lopez – drums, percussion
Koch / Music for Nations