Following up my feature on Orchid, I am reviewing Opeth’s second opus, Morningrise.
At the time that I was getting into Opeth, their second album, Morningrise, was still pretty hard to come by, and I ended up having to import a copy of it. In metal and prog circles, in every review that I had ever read, everyone always upheld Morningrise as Opeth’s unrivaled masterpiece, the standard by which all other progressive metal was to be judged.
Perhaps I set my expectations too high because of this. While I greatly enjoyed my first listens of Morningrise, it didn’t reach out and grab me the way the other Opeth observations had. I was expecting to have my mind blasted apart, and instead I was merely impressed.
Subsequent listens led me to understand why this album is so highly regarded. Morningrise is a quieter album. It’s mix is really unusual, and rewards careful listening. This is the most understated mix on any Opeth album barring Damnation or Heritage. Everything sounds more distant, and aside from the soaring dual guitar harmonies, the mix is a much colder one than Orchid. While this lends a lot of gravity to the album’s more atmospheric passages, it also guts the parts of the album that are heavy. Anders Nordin is much more on-the-spot and keeps a way better tempo for the band here, but his kit sounds so muted and so tinny that it really kills the parts of the music that are supposed to be intense. The worst offender of fall is Opeth’s grandest, longest song ever, “Black Rose Immortal,” which clocks in at 20 minutes long, but half of the song has one of the weakest drum mixes I’ve ever heard; The bass drums are barely even audible. That’s really a shame because this track has one of the coolest pieces of music that I have ever heard in my life, a blisteringly epic interlude which connects the two halves of the track; it is only undercut by the weak sounding drums. What really confounds me about the mix is that Morningrise was recorded in the same studio and with same producer as Orchid, yet the results the second time around are astonishingly weaker.
The album’s opener, “Advent,” is my favorite song on the album. It is in some parts Iron Maiden, in others a bit of Celtic Frost and Iced Earth, interlaced with jazzy rhythms and very folk-inspired acoustic guitar passages.
“Night and the Silent Water” is, to this day, one of the saddest songs that I have ever heard in my life. This is a slower track, one where the bass and drums take a step back and allow the guitars to wash over the listener with waves of melancholy and despair. The ending of this track, to this day, is one of the most epic moments that Opeth has ever delivered. Hearing it live only reinforced how I feel about it.
However, these moments (and the beautifully written “To Bid You Farewell”) aside, Morningrise also taxes my patience at times. Especially in the tracks “Nectar” and “Black Rose Immortal,” the music’s stop-and-start transitions between segments and the almost random at times arrangements actually become a detriment to the music. These things make it harder to appreciate the tracks and their themes as a whole, essentially breaking my sense of immersion. Orchid suffered from this to an extent, but I don’t feel it as acutely when I listen to that album as here on Morningrise.
I still consider Morningrise to be a worthy follow-up to the explosively raw Orchid, and it does display a progression on the part of the band. The tempos are much more solid, Mikael Akerfeldt’s clean vocals are better developed, and the album is still a triumph of atmosphere, straddling the lines between raw, nature-inspired black metal, acoustic folk, jazz, and pure prog. It’s a more demanding listen for any fan, and probably requires the most patience to appreciate out of any Opeth album. It’s just too bad that the production values took such a nosedive after Orchid, or this could have been a much more powerful listen.