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Orchid Review

by John Serba

Opeth's debut, Orchid, was quite an audacious release, a far-beyond-epic prog/death monstrosity exuding equal parts beauty and brutality -- an album so brilliant, so navel-gazingly pretentious that, in retrospect, Opeth's future greatness was a foregone conclusion. Fact is, these Swedes -- with the opening cut, "In Mist She Was Standing," exceeding the 14-minute mark -- laid their cards on the table at the beginning of the hand and still took the pot, so ambitious and convincing is the band's artistic vision. And while the record finds the group searching for the razor-sharp focus and prominent emotional hook put forth on the later, classic releases My Arms, Your Hearse, Still Life, and Blackwater Park, Orchid is still an exhilarating listen, with the band meshing double-time death tempos with bleak, frostbitten riffs and moodily expansive, jazz-influenced, melodic instrumental passages sporting an abundance of delicate acoustic guitars and pianos. Mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt's guttural growls puncture the nearly interminable arrangements with the kind of brutality that stops die-hard death and black metal fans from giving up on the lengthy arrangements completely, although with five exorbitant cuts clocking in at ten-plus minutes (three of them over 13 minutes), some fat-trimming would have kept things even remotely manageable. Still, one has to admire Opeth's unwavering adherence to the album's astoundingly depressive tone, Orchid being a near-brilliant ode to misery that would kick the door down for Akerfeldt and his cohorts to claim sole ownership of a well-conceived and, at the time, startlingly unique sound. [Note: Orchid was originally released in 1995 and reissued in 2000 by London-based label Candlelight with a bonus track, "Into the Frost of Winter," a considerably gritty, unproduced rehearsal recording from 1992; not surprisingly, the bandmembers vastly improved their songwriting and instrumental skills prior to Orchid's release. Parts of the track would eventually morph into the song "Advent" on Opeth's 1996 album Morningrise.]

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