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Opeth - Orchid CD (album) cover

ORCHID

Opeth

 

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.24 | 599 ratings

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FragileKings
Prog Reviewer
3 stars So here we have the very first Opeth album, released by Candlelight Records in 1995 but recorded in the spring of 1994. By the time Opeth hit the studio, none of the founding members remained in the band, the last one, David Insberg, having left two years prior. On the current roster were a young Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g) who was joined by Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr/piano), and Johan De Farfalla (bass/backing vo ) for the debut.

This album and its successor, "Morningrise", show Opeth as they never would sound again. Though labeled as death metal with some black metal aspects, Opeth were from their first platter already showing prog tendencies. The songs are mostly over ten minutes and are composed in multiple parts with tempo and meter changes, not to mention the frequent acoustic breaks. I'll admit here that my knowledge of death metal is rather sparse and lacking and so I did a bit of research, first reading the Wikipedia article on death metal and discovering that I already was familiar with its origins (which as it turns out are close to those of black metal). In the eighties I had in my cassette collection albums by Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost, and Possessed, and it was these bands among others that inspired both the death and black metal movements. To further educate myself, I found a playlist on YouTube with 224 videos of old school death metal and I listened to the first two dozen songs. From those I conclude that early death metal was fast like trash but featured growled, or perhaps more accurately roared, guttural vocals. This matched my loose impression prior to hearing the album. When someone somewhere commented that early Opeth albums were more straightforward death metal, I imagined something like early Gorguts: fast, technical, and brutal.

The guitar sound strikes me as rather primitive for the day. Though we are talking mid-nineties here, the distortion sound, the tone, and the use of delay are similar to albums I picked up in the eighties. The one that comes to mind most readily is an EP by Ruthless. The guitars have a rawness to them and sound a bit high tone compared to the city-leveling, bombastic, full-on distortion whump! of later albums like "My Arms, Your Hearse" and "Blackwater Park". But the dual guitars play complex and melodic riffs that more than once remind me of Paul Di'Anno-era Iron Maiden. This cannot just be me because I read someone describe the guitar playing as Celtic-influenced and I have read the same appraisal about Iron Maiden.

Rather amazingly, this debut death metal album opens with a 14:10 mini-epic that introduces more than a couple of harmonized dual guitar riffs for the first 2:20 of the song before the vocals finally come in. Around the 3-minute mark the speed picks up, but with more emphasis on slower melodic riffs I feel the music is more akin to early nineties thrash bands like Sacrifice, Slayer, or Annihilator because raw speed has given way to complexity in music and song structure. The first acoustic break comes at 3:48 and get used to it because this is what the band is going to build its career on: frequent acoustic breaks in heavy songs. True to melodic form, the lead guitar parts are not wailing or shredded but exude a taste for style and feeling over volleys of notes.

Three of the next five tracks are all lengthy numbers featuring more melodic riffs, a few speedy sections, some wonderful mid-eighties early death metal heavy riffs, frequent exploitation of acoustic guitars, and some noteworthy bass guitar highlights. There are moments, especially in "The Twilight Is My Robe" when the acoustic passages become frequent to the point of redundancy, I felt at first, the uniqueness and surprise quickly wearing off. However, by the end of the song the quick binges of speedy heavy parts actually seem more like the breaks while the acoustic parts carry the weight of the song.

Throughout these tracks, Mikael's death growl is harsh and demonic, sounding like his vocal chords are being given a good shredding while the lead guitars eschew shredding altogether and stick to being melodic and emotive. There is still room for some great trad metal guitar moves in places. On the down side, the clean vocals here often sound weak as though they were deemed a necessary part of the songs but no fully adequate singer was available. Mikael would certainly perform clean vocals much better later on down the road.

There are two short instrumental pieces. "Silhouette" is a piano composition by drummer Anders Nordin. It could have been rather pretty but I feel the playing is clunky and graceless. The keys are pounded throughout and the tempo seems ready to derail at inappropriate times. "Requiem" is an acoustic guitar number with bass guitar, and despite the band's insistence on working in acoustic guitar sections into their songs, this instrumental is unremarkable.

The true highlight of the album for me is in the final track, "The Apostle in Triumph". Beginning with an upbeat acoustic piece, it sounds like something that might have been an outtake from Led Zeppelin's third album, hand drums and a restless bass guitar adding to the interest. Then bizarrely, the music fades out and for two seconds there is only silence. Another acoustic composition begins, and you might be wondering here what has happened as "Requiem" was followed by two more acoustic only bits. But "Apostle" is a mighty track of 13 minutes with some ominous guitar riffs and brutal vocals. Much more emphasis goes on the heavy music than on any other track, I presume. At 7:25 a huge surprise is dropped on our cochleae with an instrumental segment that features a guitar that sounds more like a viola. I suspect it is played by adjusting the volume dial but done with such a speed and agility that I would not be surprised to hear another technique had been employed. After the first two listens to this album, this song had cemented itself as my favourite track of the album and one of my top ten favourite Opeth tracks, at least until I acquired more albums when the list had to be expanded to a top 20.

Though Opeth would go on to release many excellent albums later on, this earnest debut, though a little rough in a few spots, establishes the band as more than just another death metal outfit. Rankings of Opeth album usually put "Blackwater Park" or "Ghost Reveries" at the top but at least one list I found has "Orchid" in the number one position.

A more straight forward death album this is not. These four young men produced quite an achievement in their early days as Opeth and set their course for progressive melodic death metal.

FragileKings | 3/5 |

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