When OPETH frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt called me from his apartment in Stockholm, we managed to cover a wide range of topics over the course of the 45 minute interview. From his interest in satanic Black Metal while growing up, to the use of a strong image as a promotional tool for bands, he was always upfront and honest regarding such topics. Now you are probably wondering: why is all of this being said in a review? Well, since this was my first interview, it was only appropriate that my recording device fail to live up to its capabilities. However, I felt that it would have been a great injustice to merely accept failure and disregard the whole experience, especially considering what I had learned first hand from Mikael regarding OPETH's latest blessing upon the Metal world titled "Damnation". When the conversation topic turned to "Damnation", Mikael's enthusiastic anxiety was impossible to ignore. When he explained that he never usually cared what critics had to say about previous OPETH albums, but for "Damnation", he was really nervous to see what people thought, it became more than apparent that Mikael was (and very well should be) immensely proud of what he had achieved on this album. He followed up by saying that he was not going to read what people had to say about "Damnation" because of how much work he had put into it.
I found this to be rather surprising because, being a huge OPETH fan and having heard the album for myself, I am quite certain that only words of praise will be given to this latest offering of musical genius. When I asked him how he felt about the prospects of "Damnation" selling very well, he summed up his indifference by simply stating that if you write music for sales, and not for music or inspiration's sake, the quality of the music is bound to suffer. Having already been exposed to the generic nature of popular music here in North America, his response could not have made more sense. While much was discussed, it was Mikael's excitement for "Damnation" that most stuck in my mind. Regardless of what naysayers may claim, OPETH are on of the most captivating bands of our day, a fact that none can refute.
While many bands release mediocre albums while trying to disguise them as testaments to their "progression", OPETH do no such thing, as "Damnation" shows the band taking a very significant progressive step without compromising the music in any way. Sombre yet reflective, "Windowpane" begins this emotional journey by creating a perfect atmosphere that is evident throughout the album. While many may believe that they already have an idea of what "Damnation" will sound like, all I can say is that throughout this album, new elements and sounds are incorporated that have never been heard before (and some that have) on any OPETH album. Mellotrons, keyboards, grand pianos, and vocal effects all come together in a flawless manner to demonstrate OPETH's foundations in classic and Progressive Rock. "In My Time Of Need" then overwhelms the listener in a bleak sense of longing most apparent in Mikael's words, while "Death Whispered A Lullaby" evokes a soothing uneasiness that is perfectly expressed in the song's chorus and vocal melodies. "Closure" then picks up the pace in comparison to the previously mentioned tracks, only to end in a very abrupt fashion. Such an ending works as a successful reminder to the listener not to make any assumptions regarding OPETH's music, while also instilling further uneasiness.
However, any such sentiments quickly fade away as the opening of "Hope Leaves" reverts back to the sense of longing previously felt on "In My Time Of Need". The album reaches its peak when we are blessed with "To Rid The Disease", my personal favourite track off "Damnation". Whether it is the use of the piano in the background, or the perfect chorus, this song is easily one of the most beautifully written clean songs that OPETH have ever released. Though silence is all that can be heard following the conclusion of "To Rid The Disease", it does not last long, as the instrumental "Ending Credits" slowly emerges from the darkness to please the listener with a more upbeat sound, backed by excellent instrumental work. The stellar, yet reserved guitar work, however, deserves special recognition. Finally, the closing track "Weakness" begins with an eerie sounding effect that is quickly supported by Mikael's soft, almost fragile voice. This creates a lingering atmosphere without ever boring the listener. "Weakness" delivers haunting vocal and lyrical work that leave the listener in a sombre state of reflection when the final words are uttered.
While OPETH have received criticism in the past for not progressing enough with each subsequent release, few can now make any such claim after hearing "Damnation" and keep a clear conscience at the same time. Though bands will continue to change their music in an effort to please a larger audience, OPETH follow their own formula: create music that many can only dream of making, while observing a fanbase growth as a result of the music. This has proven successful in the past, and will continue to do so. Progression has always been a double-edged sword for the traditional artist, unless you happen to be as untraditional as OPETH, for then, no such rules apply. "Damnation" has finally arrived; let the worshipping begin. (Online May 14, 2003)