Orchid

Opeth

Candlelight Records, 1995

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/09/2010

Orchid, the debut release from Swedish metal icons Opeth, is a revelation on many fronts. For me, it was a door into the world of the heaviest of heavy metals, a door I had avoided for a long time despite my passion for metal music in almost any form. This was a bit of a paradox, as I literally grew up with and loved heavy metal, witnessing every growing pain and baby step as it worked its way up to its current lofty position in the hierarchy of popular music. Extreme metal music itself was so compelling in its power and gruesome glory, but those Cookie Monster vocals were where I drew the line. Some of the vocals are so ludicrously out there that it sucked away any shred of respect I had for the music.

Opeth manged to tame the sonic beast without taking away any of its power. Their sound is often brutally heavy, the vocals are often patently demonic, but the arrangements are so finely polished and unpredictable that they instantly won me over. They broke with tradition on many fronts with their flagrant disregard for most of the unwritten laws of the extreme metal community.  Instead of brief, jackhammer blasts, no song here (barring the two brief instrumental intro tracks) come in under ten minutes. “In Mist She Was Standing,” the opening track of my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Orchid, clocks in at over 14 minutes. Huh? Tales Of Topographic Oceans anyone? They alternate the typical growling vocals with traditional “clean” vocals, they employ keys, acoustic guitars and strings, and include actual melodies in their arrangements. It makes sense once you listen to them. They draw as much inspiration from the likes of Pink Floyd and Dream Theater as they do from Slayer and Metallica. And they manage these extended excursions without losing their focus or the listener.

Opeth’s core sound is distinctively cutting-edge; however, their early work shows a reverence for ‘80s metal, particularly in the Iron Maiden-flavored dual guitar sounds prevalent on this record. After this initial release, that influence would fade and morph into the more familiar grinding freight train riffs and blast-beats, but there are moments in Orchid where they openly pay homage to the likes of Maiden and Slayer. Also like Maiden, principal songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has a passion for lengthy progressive arrangements and imaginative lyrical imagery, with an emphasis on standard metal themes of death, isolation, sorrow, and loss. The lengthy prog-metal constructions are a perfect vehicle for Åkerfeldt’s expansive vision. They avoid the trap of overblown tedium with constantly shifting musical voices, often using several disparate interwoven melodies and themes.

Orchid is a stunning debut. This release would be the beginning of a steady upward curve of musical growth and success as fans hungry for heavy, heavy, music found a sound more accessible to the traditional metal fan. While a bit raw and less polished than their future work, it’s an outstanding accomplishment for such a young band, and the music is no less creative or compelling than the best of their now formidable catalog. Opeth would manage to brilliantly unite the worlds of old school and extreme metal, rising to the peak of the progressive metal scene – and rightly so.

Rating: A-

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