Turns out the best Swedish death metal band of the 90s and early oughts was listening to those Bert Jansch and Popol Vuh records all along. And such grooves are not as unrelated to Opeth’s charge as first glance might suggest. Having spent the better part of a decade determinedly NOT (no, never) dancing around the DADGAD maypole in the relatively quiet interludes of scorching song suites lasting upwards of 20 minutes, Opeth bookended their 2002 LP Deliverance with 2003’s Damnation, and the acoustic drone floodgates opened. Prog polymath Steven Wilson, who’d helmed the band’s production since 2001’s Blackwater Park, found in Opeth’s singer/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt a like-minded soul who, after a blistering half-dozen LPs replete with growls, blast beats, and super doom — though never rote, and always smart — needed some wind in the sails. Unplug, let the mikes breathe a bit, leave the distortion pedals at home, I can imagine part of the conversation going, and so it sounds anyway on the recorded evidence. Damnation is a masterpiece, a quiet, spacious death metal record, a grim yet lithe prog album, and with that said and with that description, no, it sounds nothing like the Cure, but it may appeal if Disintegration is your cup of tea. It’s Wilson’s and Akerfeldt’s best and most dramatically pioneering record (although Opeth’s Wilson-less Ghost Reveries, from 2005, is maybe most representative of their work until the band’s real act two began with 2008’s Watershed).
Soon after Damnation‘s release the band took their show to Shepherd’s Bush in London, and there recorded 2004’s live Lamentations DVD, long since a YouTube staple. Just as “Closure” anchors Damnation, its live cousin fills the same role on Lamentations. The show is worthwhile to watch in its entirety, as Opeth takes some giant steps, with jazz-touched atmospherics and restrained but potent jams. The band acknowledges its debts while shrugging off the diehard metal kids who came out for blood (they’d be given their due anyhow in the harder part of the show, and even in the Damnation section it ain’t exactly MTV unplugged). If there’s a point where Akerfeldt became who he is, it’s on full display here, an artist who, as he appeals to his audience, is confident in his direction. Just glorious.
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