Not since the release of Tiamat's groundbreaking masterpiece Wildhoney in 1994 had the extreme metal scene witnessed such an overwhelming show of fan enthusiasm and uniform critical praise as that bestowed upon Blackwater Park, the astounding fifth effort from Swedish metal titans Opeth. A work of breathtaking creative breadth, Blackwater Park (named after an obscure German progressive rock outfit from the 1970s) keeps with Opeth's tradition by transcending the limits of death/black metal and repeatedly shattering the foundations of conventional songwriting, to boot. Rarely does a band manage to break new ground without losing touch with its roots, but Opeth has made a career of it -- perhaps never as effortlessly as on this occasion. But the biggest difference between Blackwater Park and previous offerings lies not in the remarkably high songwriting standards achieved by main man Mikael Åkerfeldt (that's a given with him), but in the first-time involvement of Porcupine Tree leader Steve Wilson, whose contributions as producer lend an unprecedented fluidity to Opeth's restlessly inventive arrangements. Like all Opeth LPs, Blackwater Park is divided not so much into songs as "movements," as the band likes to call them. Tracks start and finish in seemingly arbitrary fashion, usually traversing ample musical terrain, including acoustic guitar and solo piano passages, ambient soundscapes, stoner rock grooves, and Eastern-tinged melodies -- any of which are subject to savage punctuations of death metal fury at any given moment. Likewise, Åkerfeldt's vocals run the gamut from bowel-churning grunts to melodies of chilling beauty -- depending on each movement section's mood. With all this in mind, singling out specific highlights is pretty much a futile exercise; but for the benefit of first-time listeners, why not start out with the colossal, Arabian-flavored riffs of "Bleak," the memorable chorus of "The Drapery Falls," the surprisingly gentle intro of "Dirge for November," and, finally, the all-encompassing title track. Then, with patience (Opeth's music is everything but immediate), the rest of Blackwater Park's grand scheme will be revealed. As for more experienced Opeth disciples, few will disagree with the fact that, even compared to lofty prior achievements, Blackwater Park is surely the band's coming-of-age album, and therefore, an ideal introduction to its remarkable body of work.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Eduardo Rivadavia