OPETH Blackwater Park (Koch) 

Opeth’s fifth album, released in 2001, is a weird but oddly and brutally compelling amalgam of prog and death metal. Vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt alternates between yer standard issue death metal growling and the broken bell purity of a bruised choirboy. The album’s long and complex songs are in the neighbourhood of pre-“Metallica” Metallica, intertwined with chiming meshes of acoustic guitars and spooked piano melodies, albeit painted, as the cover suggests, from a palette of every shade of grey.  “Blackwater Park” was co-produced by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, and though I’ve never heard a Porcupine Tree album it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s the reason for the record’s borderline accessibility.

Opener “The Leper Affinity” pretty much establishes the anti-template, with its crushing dynamic swings from moments of icy delicacy to guttural snarling over heavy duty neo-prog riffage, the production fortunately never aping the tin-can-and-twine sonics seemingly endemic in the death metal genre. “Harvest” isn’t exactly the Neil Young song; although perhaps being among the album’s more conventional moments it suffers from the kind of distancing effect when a neo-prog band attempt to get up close and personal, almost as if trying to scale an insurmountable language barrier. Not that it isn’t good, but it seems chilly and remote at a time when my hunch is that the band were aiming for the opposite effect. “The Drapery Falls” is almost Sabbathesque in its juxtaposition of crystalline acoustic guitar passages and crunching slabs of noise, with a Floydian glide to the guitars on top of it all. There are times, even, when the album resembles a monstrous, armour-clad mutation of Jeff Buckley’s doomed, solitary masterpiece “Grace”. In fact, it seems like a betrayal of all the art and craft evident in “Blackwater Park” to report that my favourite track is the silvery acoustic instrumental sliver “Patterns In The Ivy”, but there it is.

Koch’s vinyl version of “Blackwater Park” is almost shockingly dynamic in places, to be fair, but is a bit bright and shiny with it. Given that the only current alternative comes from Music On Vinyl, I’d be inclined to stick with this pressing, though.