Opeth is a Progressive Death Metal band formed in Stockholm, Sweden, by David Isberg and Mikael Åkerfeldt. After the band was formed, David later quit and left the band; Mikael became the main vocalist and guitarist.
In 1995, Opeth released their debut album Orchid, which was critically praised for its unique style of death metal, having twin guitar harmonies, also adding acoustic guitar, piano, and clean vocals, something rather unusual for the Scandinavian death metal scene at the time. A couple of years later, they released Morningrise, which continued to explore the techniques used in Orchid. While it was quite popular, Opeth noticed that other metal bands began to copy them and Mikael urged the band to change their signature style. This lead to the release of the dark Concept Album My Arms, Your Hearse. A couple of years later, they released the fan favorite Still Life, in which they began to deconstruct their sound. However, they never went on tour because their music, while well liked, was not mainstream.
This all changed with the release of Blackwater Park, which many fans and critics considered then to be Opeth's best. After the massive success of Blackwater Park, they began their first world-wide tour. Within a six month period of time, they released two albums: Deliverance and Damnation. The former is considered to be the band's heaviest work while the latter is a more elegant acoustic based album. While Deliverance was well-received, Damnation instantly became a fan favorite, most notably the song Windowpane. (Note that Opeth originally planned these two to be a Distinct Double Album, but Executive Meddling nixed the idea). After extensive touring, they released 2005's dark and majestic Ghost Reveries, which (just like other previous albums) became an instant hit. After the release of Ghost Reveries however, Peter Lindgren and Martin Lopez (guitarist and drummer, respectively) left the band, leaving Opeth's future in doubt. Nevertheless, in 2008, Opeth released Watershed, which has been praised as their deepest and most mature work to date.
Starting with 2011's Heritage, Opeth underwent a Genre Shift to Progressive Rock, with which they had already experimented on Damnation. This continued on 2014's Pale Communion, and the band members appear to have no interest in returning to their metal style. The shift has predictably met with mixed reaction from existing fans, though it has won them some new fans as well.
Despite their departure from the genre, Opeth are generally accepted to be one of the poster children for Progressive Death Metal. While they are firmly rooted in Scandinavian death metal, they have shown many elements of Progressive Rock throughout their albums. They are known to combine elements of heavy metal, progressive rock, Scandinavian folk music, blues, jazz, and acoustics into their songs. While Mikael has stated that groups that inspired Opeth were ones like Slayer, Black Sabbath, Death, and Celtic Frost, he fully admits that other bands like Yes, Camel, Magma, and other progressive bands inspired the progressive rock side of them. They are well known to try something new even after an extremely successful album (à la Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries). They remain one of the world's most popular Death Metal acts, and are considered to be engaged in the work of opening up that scene to a wider audience, as their acoustic, jazzy, and folkish elements can easily draw fans of those styles into a position to appreciate the legitimate musicality of the abrasive, sonically violent, and dissonantly deconstructive nature of the death metal soundscape.
Opeth isn't a band for everyone, however. Their songs are extremely long (the average clocking in between eight and ten minutes) and musically complex. This makes their music very difficult to listen to without some dedication. A large majority of their songs demand repeated listening for full appreciation. This can make listening tedious to those who find the music alienating either for its lack of simple accessibility or death metal sensibilities. One critic put it this way: "It is very hard to be a casual Opeth fan, due to the length and complexity of their songs."
Not to be confused with Otep, as they often are.
- Orchid (1995)
- Morningrise (1996)
- My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)
- Still Life (1999)
- Blackwater Park (2001)
- Deliverance (2002)
- Damnation (2003)
- Ghost Reveries (2005)
- Watershed (2008)
- Heritage (2011)
- Pale Communion (2014)
- Sorceress (2016)
Current Band members:
- Mikael Akerfeldt: vocals, guitar, bass on My Arms, Your Hearse (1990-)
- Fredrik Akesson: guitar (2007-)
- Martin Mendez: bass (1997-)
- Martin "Axe" Axenrot: drums (2006-)
- Joakim Svalberg: keyboards (2011-)
Past Band members:
- David Isberg: Original guitarist and vocalist (1990-1992)
- Micke Bargstörm guitars (1990)
- Rille Even drums (1990)
- Dan Nilsson guitars (1990)
- Martin Persson bass (1990)
- Anders Nordin drums (19901997)
- Andreas Dimeo guitars (19901991)
- Nick Döring bass (19901991)
- Kim Pettersson guitars (1991)
- Johan DeFarfalla bass, backing vocals (1991, 19951997)
- Mattias Ander bass (1991)
- Peter Lindgren guitars (19912007), bass (1991)
- Stefan Guteklint bass (19911994)
- Martin Lopez drums (19972006)
- Per Wiberg keyboards (20052011)
- Nathalie Lorichs sang the second verse and chorus on the song "Coil" from Watershed.
- Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree has provided backing vocals on Blackwater Park, Deliverance and Damnation, and was producer for those albums.
- Renowned Swedish flautist Björn J:son Lindh played flute on the song "Famine" from Heritage.
- Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña (who has performed with many other notable musicians, including Elvis Presley) also played on "Famine".
Opeth shows examples of:
- Awesome Mc Coolname: Martin Axenrot. It certainly helps that his nickname is "Axe".
- Breather Episode: While songs like "Hours of Wealth" and "Patterns in the Ivy" count, the best example is Damnation, which is wedged between the heavy Deliverance and the extremely dark Ghost Reveries.
- And just to remember some other breather songs, there's "Silhouette", "Requiem", "Madrigal" and "For Absent Friends".
- And subverted as well, as the heaviest song on "Ghost Reveries", "The Grand Conjuration", is stuck between the two lightest and shortest songs on the album, "Hours of Wealth" and "Isolation Years".
- "Burden" is a very peaceful, if mournful, prog-rock ballad, which follows the extremely heavy "Heir Apparent," and very heavy and experimental "The Lotus Eater."
- "Benighted" from Still Life is a very mellow, acoustic song between "Godhead's Lament" and "Moonlapse Vertigo." It is also much shorter than both songs.
- And just to remember some other breather songs, there's "Silhouette", "Requiem", "Madrigal" and "For Absent Friends".
- Careful with That Axe: Plenty of examples:
- Song "Advent" features quite many sudden screams between the constant growls. "The Leper Affinity" has a solid one near the climax ('deafening shrieks pierced the NIIIIIIIGHT!!'). Also the start of "Ghost of Perdition", halfway through "The Grand Conjuration", etc.
- Concept Album: Quite a few...
- My Arms Your Hearse is a story about the ghost of a man who follows his wife in suspicion that she wasn't truly sad after his death.
- Still Life is about a medieval atheist who returns to face the Christian government and regain his love, Melinda.
- Ghost Reveries was intended to be one surrounding the turmoil of a man who commits an unconscionable act (symbolised by killing his own mother), but Mikael abandoned the idea of having the whole album qualify after writing "Isolation Years", which didn't fit into the concept. Several songs still reflect the original idea, however, so it could be considered roughly two-thirds of a concept album. However, the final track order also does not reflect the originally intended sequence of events.
- The songs on the album Watershed are connected by the theme of parting with the loved one and subsequent alienation from society.
- Cover Version: The band has covered Celtic Frost, Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Robin Trower, Marie Fredriksson, Alice in Chains, and (at a recent live show) Bon Jovi.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mikael is pretty renowned for this. See his speech under Funny Moments.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Orchid and Morningrise are pretty much the odd balls of the band's catalog: They have a surprising amount of Black Metal riffs and have much longer compositions than anything before it (with songs such as "In Mist She Was Standing" off Orchid clocking at fourteen minutes and "Black Rose Immortal" off of Morningrise infamously clocking at twenty minutes). My Arms, Your Hearse was when the band's more progressive death metal style kicked in due to Mikael becoming annoyed at the Follow the Leader bands ripping off riffs off of the first two albums.
- Epic Rocking: Their longest song, "Black Rose Immortal", lasts 20:14 and many of their songs exceed 10 minutes in length. Eight minutes is probably about Opeth's average song length.
- The average is currently 7:31.5 (not counting live and re-release tracks).
- Another fun number fact: as of 2016, the band has released twelve studio albums (Sorceress included). They come with 94 tracks total, 25 of which are over 10 minutes long. And then there's the bonus tracks, live albums, compilations...
- Genre Shift: As mentioned above, Heritage and all studio albums after it have no metal influences.
- Hates Everyone Equally: Blackwater Park has themes of this according to the Blackwater Park: Legacy Edition linear notes by Mikael.
- I Am the Band: Zig-zagged with Mikael. While Mikael stresses the fact each band member is important to the band, everyone (even his bandmates) agrees that he is Opeth, as he's the main songwriter.
- I Love the Dead: The subject of "The Leper Affinity".
- Last Note Nightmare: "Burden" - nothing said. Also "A Fair Judgement".
- "Nectar" manages to get two in the space of about a minute.
- Lighter and Softer: Damnation and everything from Heritage onward.
- Literary Allusion Title: The band's name is a slightly modified version of a place name (Opet) from Wilbur Smith's novel The Sunbird (note that the person who named the band was The Pete Best and left pretty quickly). Also, Blackwater Park is one by proxy; see below.
- Loudness War: Their metal albums are pretty squished, even the ones Steven Wilson (who hates this trope) produced. Damnation isn't that dynamic either. By the time of Pale Communion they had stopped doing this.
- Miniscule Rocking: Much of the instrumentals such as "Requiem", "Madrigal", and "Patterns in the Ivy".
- Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Generally around 9, but they go all over the place. Damnation in particular is pure 3/4.
- Interestingly, many individual songs vary wildly between rankings, such as "Dirge for November," which starts about a 2/3 for the first couple minutes, then rockets straight to a 9 pretty much without warning before going back to 2/3 territory for the coda. Almost every song on Watershed has these extreme variations as well, with "Hessian Peel" being probably the most extreme example (unless you count the transition from "Coil" to "Heir Apparent").
- Their 2011 album, Heritage, would be in the 3-7 range for the most part. It's quite a bit more straightforward and less scattered than other Opeth records (except, of course, for Damnation), so it's much easier to rank on this scale. Pale Communion, their latest, follows in a similar vein.
- Mood Whiplash: Oh god YES. This is your average reaction to a song by Opeth: "Who the fuck put Death Metal into my jazz?!"
- One of the best examples is the song "Hessian Peel" from Watershed, which contains around six minutes of serene Progressive Rock before abruptly transforming into blasting Death Metal. "Dirge for November" is also an excellent example, as noted immediately above. That said, many of the band's transitions are more gradual ("The Drapery Falls" is a good example here, as it builds up steadily to the death metal section in a Bolιro Effect-like fashion before transition back to progressive rock somewhat more abruptly).
- Murder Ballad: Still Life, Ghost Reveries.
- New Sound Album: Twice.
- Damnation is an album consisting of, essentially, nothing but the quiet bits that had usually been sandwiched inside death metal songs before. This was followed by two more albums of their regular progressive death metal mix.
- Heritage features a new sound entirely, abandoning the death metal influences for heavy progressive rock. This change has stuck, with their albums since refining the same style.
- No Ending: "Serenity Painted Death" and "Closure" both cut off abruptly. In the former it is intentional to indicate the capture of the protagonist, while in the latter it is an ironic pun on the title of the song (as the abrupt ending means the song has no closure).
- One Steve Limit: Averted twice, When Martin Lopez was replaced by Martin Axenrot.
- Progressive Metal
- Progressive Rock: Damnation, Heritage, Pale Communion. Most of their metal albums have at least one song that fits into this style as well. (Watershed has four).
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: THE! GRAND! CON! JUR! AAAA! SHUUUUNNNN!
- Also, pretty much the entire lyrics of "Blackwater Park" (song). "THE SUUUUUN SEETS, FOREEEVEEERRR, OVER, BLACKWATER, PAAAAARRRRKKKK!!!"
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Two examples:
- Mikael and Martin Mendez, the former being a very energetic and brash man and the latter being very quiet, rarely speaking in interviews.
- Deliverance and Damnation, the former being the band's heaviest work while the latter is the band's softest work.
- Religion Rant Album: Still Life has anti-religious themes (it specifically attacks religious fanaticism and theocracy).
- Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Per Word of God, most of the lyrics to the first album were this. This is also an element of Ghost Reveries, but for the most part they abandoned this as their career progressed.
- Running Gag: Mikael's endless snark at everyone concert will be this.
- Asking the band to perform "Black Rose Immortal" is this a lot.
- Self-Deprecation: Much of Mikael's snark during their live shows usually revolves around calling the next song "The most boring song on the album" and mocking the pretentiousness of their music. Or maybe mocking their fans.
- Shout-Out/Titled After the Song/Album/Band/Lyric: Mikael loves to name his songs and albums after bands, albums, songs, lyrics, and so on. A representative sample:
- Blackwater Park is named after a German Krautrock band. By proxy it's also a Literary Allusion Title since they took their name from Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White.
- Still Life is named after an album of the same name by Van Der Graaf Generator.
- My Arms, Your Hearse takes its name from lyrics to the song "Drip Drip" by Comus.
- "The Baying of the Hounds" also takes its name from a Comus lyric (this time, "Diana").
- "For Absent Friends" is titled after a song by Genesis.
- "Master's Apprentices" is named for an Australian progressive rock group.
- "The Seventh Sojourn" is named after an album by The Moody Blues.
- "Strange Brew" is named after a song by Cream, though the title is all the two songs have in common.
- "The Wilde Flowers" is named after a semi-obscure English group which gave rise to the "Canterbury Scene" movement in early prog.
- Sincerest Form of Flattery: Mikael has stated that the song "Ending Credits" off Damnation is "totally a Camel ripoff". Given how he's also said how much of an influence they are to him, the song becomes more of a tribute than a Follow the Leader kind of thing. "Benighted" is another example of clear Camel influence on Opeth's work; its resemblance to "Never Let Go" has been repeatedly noted.
- Mikael has also admitted that "Slither" off of Heritage was basically his attempt to rewrite "Kill the King" by Rainbow; fitting, as it's a tribute to Ronnie James Dio.
- Soprano and Gravel: Mikael is a shining example of the one-man version. He is effortlessly able to change between a towering, operatic clean voice to a deep, crackling death growl. It's much better exemplified by "The Lotus Eater".
- The Stoic: Martin Mendez, and the fans love him for it.
- Subliminal Seduction: There's a section in "Hessian Peel" that parodies the infamous "Stairway to Heaven" backmasking Urban Legend. There are a couple of other examples of deliberate backmasking in their catalogue, such as the intro to "Demon of the Fall" and the hidden track after "By the Pain I See in Others".
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: "To Bid You Farewell", "Credence", "Epilogue", "Benighted", "Face of Melinda", "Harvest", "For Absent Friends", several others, plus the entirety of Damnation, Heritage, and Pale Communion, all of which qualify as Surprisingly Gentle Albums.
- To Absent Friends: The song "For Absent Friends", titled after the Genesis song of the same name.
- Together in Death: "White Cluster", the ending track for Still Life.
- Uncommon Time: Pretty much mandatory for being a Progressive Metal band. "Deliverance" contains one of many examples (quite a lot of the song is in 7/4).