Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Decaydence (2001): Opeth - Blackwater Park

If picking 2000 was a difficult exercise, the effort required in selecting my choice full length from the following year was not far behind. This year saw sterling work from giants including Fugazi, Hot Water Music, and The Shins, as well as oft listened offerings from the likes of Mclusky, Neurosis, New End Original, Clutch, and Amen. Throw in a once-in-five-years release from the evergeen Tool - my most listened band across the Last.FM years - in the form of Lateralus and much chin-stroking is the result.

In plumping for Opeth's sprawling black metal masterpiece Blackwater Park, I've placed heavy emphasis on the doors opened to my listening in the years to follow. Whilst Clutch, Tool, and Fugazi have all been central to my tastes for well over a decade, they have all released albums outside this year that have been more formative. Opeth, though? Opeth wedged open my eyes and bent my ears every which way with this album.

Alongside its predecessor Still Life, which I listened to pretty much in tandem with Blackwater Park, this one altered my perception of the boundaries of heavy music. Had it not been for the P2P explosion at the time - Audiogalaxy was my weapon of choice - I very much doubt I would have had the bravery to venture into the murky world of Opeth. The extravagantly gothic logo, the bleak imagery of their artwork, and  indeed the tag black metal alone, would probably have pushed me in the direction of safer purchases given my limited knowledge of the real metal extremes at the time. The freedom to try before buying and let the music speak for itself was as powerful then at the start of the decade as it has proved to be throughout.

MP3: Opeth - The Drapery Falls
Taken from Blackwater Park

Buy it at Insound!

What first strikes, at least for anyone unfamiliar with the style, is the calm acoustic beauty and clean vocals utilised from start to finish. For all the power they continue to hold, to hear opener The Leper Affinity plunge from an unabashed metal roar into a sound only a couple of degrees removed from a folk style acoustic lament is to epitomise the dynamics possible in this expansive, ever-evolving genre. True, it's an approach that crops us time and again throughout the Opeth discography, but when effected with such mastery and grace as demonstrated on Blackwater Park the results are nothing short of astounding.

From Mikael Akerfeldt's versatile vocal to the highly skilled guitar passages he weaves alongside Peter Lindgren, and finally topped off with a clear yet atmospheric production job from Steven Wilson, this album rises as a career highlight for a band with no shortage of standout moments. Lush progressive songs like the mostly strummed Harvest nestle proudly next to epic metal dirges such as Bleak. Further in, the proven majesty of classics The Drapery Falls and the closing title track summon the full repertoire of their talent, exploring the depths of black metal fury and the curiously bittersweet tastes of acoustic introspection. 

Blackwater Park really does have it all, though much of its appeal lies in that this only reveals itself after a series of different listening experiences, be they long walks amongst nature, a morning commute, an intentionally darkened room, or anything else one can conjure up as a favoured setting for exploring the best of an adventurous album.

Many of their releases have pushed the auditory envelope before and since this album, but the fact that it was their watershed effort (not to be confused with the literal Watershed effort, which was but is not....savvy?) which propelled them to both critical and wider fan acclaim nudges it ahead of the others to my mind. 

For what they did for my tastes and continue to do for new generations of listeners, it was impossible to not come down in favour of Blackwater Park as my pick from 2001. 

"Please remedy my confusion and thrust me back to the day
The silence of your seclusion, brings night into all you say
Pull me down again and guide me into pain"

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