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THE METAL OBSERVER - Review - OPETH - Blackwater Park

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Opeth - Blackwater Park (4/10) - Sweden - 2001

Genre: Progressive Death Metal
Label: Music For Nations
Playing time: 67:13
Band homepage: Opeth


  1. The Leper Affinity
  2. Bleak
  3. Harvest
  4. The Drapery Falls
  5. Dirge For November
  6. The Funeral Portrait
  7. Patterns In The Ivy
  8. Blackwater Park
Opeth - Blackwater Park

Mikael Åkerfeldt is perhaps the world’s biggest enigma right alongside the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. The man’s growl is nasty and fierce. His guitar playing is capable of a similar malevolent birth. He always seems to be surrounded by a host of capable musicians equally talented behind their chosen fortes as well. Yet, I can not help but be left craving more…actually less is more accurate. In attempting to create heartfelt emotional soundscapes, which prove an epic and enduring journey for the listener, they flail about tripping over themselves and manage only to capture the listener in a void of overwhelming repetitive technical condescendence. That is not a realm I wish to be incarcerated in.


As I have said above, Åkerfeldt’s vocals are certainly capable of attaining the brutish hate-filled sound which is the voice of Death Metal. There are moments on this CD which truly impress thanks to the deep guttural rasps, but they are few and far between. As soon as he adopts that clean voice on “The Leper Affinity” I cannot help but cringe. He has a limited amount of singing potential; he just fails to utilize it correctly. I have previously discussed Dave Mustaine’s vocals as doing pretty damn well with what little he has been given. Well Mikael on the other hand, has done very little with what great amount he possesses. The songwriting showcases his vocal-work like a shattered trophy case housing the Stanley Cup. This in turn takes away the majestic beauty behind the achievement and gives it the awful appearance of a child’s prize.


The album starts off on a note of mediocrity with the aforementioned track “Leper Affinity”. This track paves the way for the jarring misplaced vocal patterns and the total lack of diversity in the riff department found on “Blackwater Park”. The piano section on this track is interesting to say the least but suffers from the building up and leading to nothing syndrome. The goal of this track is to set the pace for the rest of the album and house the emotions found within. It achieves its purpose in showcasing what little coherent emotional depth is found in this vast sea of blasé. The rollercoaster ride of emotion here derails rather quickly sending its occupants through the air and crashing to their death. All aboard.


Next we are dealt “Bleak”, which exemplifies the meaning behind its title. The opening riff found here sounds very similar to something out of MOONSPELL’s catalogue and is actually quite enjoyable. The song proves entertaining for a mind-blowing 3:30 when those horribly planted clean vocals rear their ugly head. You hear that heavy, skull-crushing riff in the background? That is hate-filled and anger inducing; I can feel it running down my spine. So why the hell are we throwing clean vocals over it and turning this Louisville slugger into a wiffle ball bat? When we make it to 5:05, which seems an eternity in and of itself, we are greeted with nice…mellow…elevator music? This track exemplifies the lack of songwriting capability found and showcases an amazing 7 riffs total over a 9 minute song, bleak indeed.


“Harvest” is an altogether different track seeming to come out of absolutely nowhere. At first it comes off as quite original and mood inspiring but after 6 minutes of driving 2 riffs into the ground with little variation I can’t help but yearn for something more. I just don’t understand the angle here. OPETH needs to decide whether they wish to be ambient or Metal, or a more effective combination of the two. This track is reminiscent of the mellower parts of the album which completely clash with the rest of the material. There are instances where juxtaposing brutality with serenity is awe-inspiring but OPETH do not come close to approaching these instances.


“The Drapery Falls” and “Dirge For November” both lie in that familiar hole of repetition known as “Blackwater Park”. Both tracks build up for several minutes leading to no peak, no breathtaking leads and no jaw-dropping riffs, nothing. 5 minutes into “The Drapery Falls” we experience the vocals Mikael was meant to give us but they last for far too short of time and become detracted from when the riffing reaches its lacklustre state of variety. Between the 18 minutes of music found in these two tracks we are greeted 11 riffs of only which 3 or 4 are interesting. Must I say more?


Well we are a little over half-way through this heavily wooded forest of mediocrity and finally reach a song which gets my blood stirring; “The Funeral Portrait”. That riff right after the intro slays. It is absolutely sick and mind-numbing. I would no longer care that OPETH could not write a coherent passage to save their lives if all their riffs were of this quality. Unfortunately at 3:53 the momentum is broken for another let-down, mellow section which gives way to a heavy section. Sections such as these display what is wrong with the songwriting. Buildup that leads to oblivion is like watching a movie for 2 hours in which the ending has been deleted and you are cut off before a climax ever hits the silver scene. Not Oscar worthy in the least.


“Patterns In The Ivy” is an intro of sorts for the title track of the album. It consists of an emotionless clean guitar passage but does host an interesting piano melody. This track does seem out of place though and does not to seem to flow well into “Blackwater Park”. The last track is somewhat interesting until it sputters off at 2:50 resorting to typical OPETH technical masturbation. It attempts to be an emotionally tinged track but sputters and dies out long before it is able to blossom.


“Blackwater Park” is not an album per say, but rather a collection of tracks, hosting a couple riffs in each, put together piecemeal. OPETH Manages a unique sound, but unique is not always good. Over 1 hour and 7 minutes we are graced with a total of 45 riffs, not counting several small variations on a main riff. Not exactly up to par with bands like DARK ANGEL who possess 45 riffs in one song. Perhaps that is not a fair comparison because OPETH is not Thrash and of a different vein altogether. Still, with less than a riff a minute this album crawls along like a two-legged dog which needs to be put out of its misery. If you want quality Progressive Death Metal throw in EDGE OF SANITY or CYNIC. Hell, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s work on “Crimson” overshadows the sum of what he has accomplished with OPETH.


Next time you’re bored pull out a Thesaurus and look up overrated. Don’t be surprised to find OPETH listed as the first synonym. (Online May 27, 2005)

Charles Theel

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