When OPETH first announced that the release following "Blackwater Park" would be a double release, one CD focusing more on the aggressive side of their music and the other being softer, I was a bit sceptical. The reason why OPETH are OPETH is because they have an uncanny to mix their mellow bits with the harsh parts. It was scheduled to be a double CD at first (I believe. If not, they were scheduled to be released on the same day), so I thought that both CDs would complement and complete each other.
Then what I feared happened. "Deliverance" was released back in November, alone. This gave "Damnation" a potential problem. Without it's heavier counterpart, some people would view it as a weak release, and saying it's not a real OPETH release, how only the slow parts will make the album a non-stellar release, etc.
So with extreme scepticism, I approached "Damnation". I knew from the moment I put this CD that there would be no growling vocals, no distorted guitars. Just clean guitars and Mikael's celestial clean vocals.
Knowing that OPETH have recorded some killer all clean songs ("Benighted") and pretty yet haunting acoustic interludes got my hopes up a bit, but I truly had to listen to the album to form a an opinion about the music.
All my fears have been for naught. This release is great and solid.
What's even more surprising is that I view this non-Metal release to be better than half of their catalogue! It's superior to "My Arms, You Hearse", "Orchid" and "Deliverance". They manage to create lush landscapes with their music, weaving a beautiful web that will draw you in. The decision to limit themselves to only clean guitars and vocals allows them to tap into their creative juices, and allows them to FOCUS. From the opening track, each song has its own niche, from the slow Prog Rock sounding "Windowpane" to "Weakness", a song that uses the 'less is more' philosophy to it's fullest, creating a haunting and chilling way to end the album. All this without the use of one single growl, not one heavy riff.
Plus it did what "Deliverance" failed to do. It grew on me. "Deliverance" hit me on the head like a hammer the first time I heard it, but when I look back in retrospect, I realize that with each listen the album held less and less of my interest. The exact opposite happened with "Damnation". When I listened to the album as a whole the first couple of times, it sounded like chill-out music, something to put in the background, not really paying attention to what the music contains. But like a vile disease, it slowly infected me. I started to pay more and more attention to the subtleties and nuances of the album, and then it got me hooked, and would not let go.
No, it's not Metal at all. That doesn't matter, though. Great music doesn't need to be labelled. (Online May 15, 2003)