Opeth - _Ghost Reveries_
(Roadrunner Records, 2005)
by: Pedro Azevedo (9 out of 10)
Ten years after their debut, Opeth are back with their eighth full- length album. With one of the most enviable discographies in metal behind them, Opeth face the huge challenge of living up to said back catalog with every new album -- and indeed expand their boundaries or somehow improve their already excellent music.

But let's get some facts out of the way before delving into _Ghost Reveries_. After the end of Music for Nations, Opeth controversially signed to Roadrunner Records, causing considerable uproar among fans. Meanwhile, Steve Wilson from Porcupine Tree did not (as far as I know) participate in the recording of _Ghost Reveries_, contrary to the band's albums stretching as far back as _Blackwater Park_, and was replaced Jens Borgen as producer. Finally, keyboardist Per Wiberg is now officially a member of Opeth.

Aware of all this, and knowing from personal experience that Opeth albums can take a while to fully reveal themselves to the listener, I took my time with _Ghost Reveries_ before I wrote anything about it. I took the album with me on vacation, expecting to give it a very significant number of spins in that period. Yet something strange happened: although I couldn't say I disliked the album, I certainly wasn't drawn to it the way I expected to be. Instead, I had to almost force myself to go back to the album, to try and uncover its secrets -- as if it were some dour trial that had to be endured in order to achieve some great reward at the end, something as outstanding as _Morningrise_, _My Arms, Your Hearse_ or _Blackwater Park_. It was certainly a pleasant album to listen to, but it didn't keep calling me back like I expected it would. The album did finally grow on me after a while -- or should I say, several parts of the album grew on me while others definitely failed, and I was finally able to reach a stable opinion.

Opeth's previous twin albums, the more death metal oriented _Deliverance_ and even the quieter and experimental _Damnation_, seemed relatively straightforward to get into compared to this -- both good albums in their own right, though neither of them a favourite of mine amidst the band's discography. Clearly there was something quite different going on here, and unsurprisingly enough, the most immediate difference one can find on _Ghost Reveries_ is the more prominent use of keyboards and their somewhat different sound from what the band used in the past. Nonetheless, much of the album seemed quite typical Opeth fare in every sense, give or take the slightly different production.

The absence of Porcupine Tree's Steve Wilson on this album has certainly made the band no less progressive than before, contrary to what some might expect. If anything, this is Opeth's most diverse album to date, even if some of that diversity is quite subtle. The days when Opeth would only alternate between their unique type of death metal and acoustic interludes are far gone. Instead, death metal passages more akin to Bloodbath, like midway through "The Grand Conjuration", provide great contrast with other parts, like the very prog-oriented (and rather dull) "Atonement". Syncopated, start-stop riffs are also present in abundance, although the work of drummer extraordinaire Martin Lopez is somewhat less remarkable this time around. However, it is the addition of keyboardist Per Wiberg that reinforces this diversity, not only on the numerous non-metallic passages, but also accompanying a number of riffs; this has rather mixed results however.

As is usually the case, at least in my experience, when you add more kinds of approaches and moods to your music, you risk pleasing some listeners and annoying others with each new element. Certainly in my case, the occasionally upbeat keyboard-laden progressive passages Opeth use on _Ghost Reveries_ detract from my enjoyment of the album. The keyboards work well enough when they are used within a similar mould to what they did before, mostly as background enhancement or during more tranquil parts, but when they rise to prominence over a riff the results are hardly ever for the better. The worst of these passages is the opening of "Beneath the Mire", jarring enough to nearly ruin the song altogether; it also helps dispell the notion of a consistent atmosphere -- let alone the melancholy suggested by the album title, which is only glimpsed on occasion.

Going back to what I wrote at the beginning of this review, it is hard to live up -- let alone improve on -- a discography as rich as Opeth's. Should the band be made to suffer with each new release for the classics they have produced in the past? I think not, and as such it is necessary to admit that these complaints stem from my extremely high expectations. It is time, then, to state that this is still an album of a very high musical calibre, and independently of all else worthy of its 9 out of 10 rating. It has some fantastic moments, impeccable musicianship and production, challenging songwriting, and it dares make some changes to a highly successful formula without following commercial trends. Some of the non-metallic material is excellent, namely on "Hours of Wealth" and "Isolation Years", and the same can be said about heavier tracks like "Ghost of Perdition", "Reverie / Harlequin Forest" and "The Baying of the Hounds".

Overall, _Ghost Reveries_ is too much of a mixed bag to challenge my favourite Opeth records, even after all the attention I gave it. It undeniably contains some superb material; but I expected an amazing album and a more consistent experience than this. Almost paradoxically, however, it will very likely be top 10 material by the end of 2005 -- that's just how damn good Opeth are.

Contact: http://www.opeth.com

(article published 24/8/2005)

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