Opeth’s sixth opus and the first I was exposed to.
The time comes for another review from me where I have to exercise a separation between my subjectivity and objectivity. My objective, critical musical mind concedes that in my opinion as an appreciator and critic of music, Blackwater Park is Opeth’s finest, most complete, most balanced work. Yet Deliverance is the album I will say is my favorite if anyone at any given time is to ask.
To be fair, some of it is due to nostalgia and sentiment. Deliverance was the first Opeth album I ever listened to, and really was even the first progressive metal album I ever explored. This was in an amazing time where my cousin and I were breaking new musical ground on an almost daily basis, amazed at every turn by finding new and interesting music, especially in metal, that we hadn’t even considered was possible to exist. The very first Opeth track I ever heard was on the metal channel at my cousin’s house, amazingly enough it being the super-obscure closing track from Deliverance, “By the Pain I See In Others.” (As far as I know the band has not played this live and it is seldom discussed or referenced)
I loved every second of it. It was like my ears were capable of experiencing orgasm. I didn’t know music like this was possible or existed. To so freely and so effortlessly play music that was incredibly heavy and without warning could turn into something majestic and melodic and emotionally breathtaking was just not something I had comprehended as possible before. There was no turning back.
Deliverance is one half of what you might call a double album, seeing as it was recorded side by side with Damnation. As the band described it, someone hit on the idea of doing a “heavy album and a mellow album,” effectively splitting Opeth’s signature sound into two equal halves then amplifying each aspect to the nth degree. It’s easy to argue that this worked with Damnation, an album that took Opeth’s soft side and progressive rock influences away from the death metal in a classy, beautiful, tasteful way that still sounded unmistakably like Opeth. On the other hand, on the surface it seems easy to write Deliverance off as being just a heavier version of the sound the band started in My Arms Your Hearse, a combination of death metal, acoustic passages, progressive rock, jazz, blues, and folk influences, as well as clean vocals alongside screams and growls.
It is my opinion that Deliverance goes beyond this, but it requires an attention to detail and a willingness to immerse yourself fully in the music to absorb just how heavy this album really is. It goes beyond the tone of the guitars, the sound of the drums, the as fierce as ever death metal vocals of Mikael Akerfeldt. The album’s overall tone, the content of the lyrics, the mix, the way that even the acoustic passages and clean vocals parts seem more somber, more submissive to the heavy parts, more naked than usual, all adds to the impression of oppressive heaviness, all adding weight and heaviness to the whole album.
Of course, if the whole album was like the opening track, “Wreath,” this might go down as one of the heaviest records ever made just based off a cursory listen. Sure, there may be no blast beats or guitars tuned to A flat or lyrics about “Hail Satan” or riffs that are intended to melt peoples’ brains from sheer heavy technicality (looking at you, Necrophagist), but the vibe and tone and incredibly stark bleakness and despair captured by this opening track alone is among the most intense musical experiences I have ever been through. The first instrumental passage after the tempo change is the greatest piece of music I’ve ever heard. Peter Lindgren’s solo minutes later is one of my favorite metal guitar solos of all time.
The title track that follows after Wreath is also staggeringly heavy but does take a few more moments to breathe. Akerfeldt’s somber, heartfelt vocals in the brief mellow passages speak to my heart. And of course, this relentless, intense song has a legendary, notorious mindfuck of an outro that, yes, maybe goes on a bit long (the final passage is repeated 4 times on the album whereas the band plays it 3 times live; 3 times seems just right) but is perfect for nailing the atmosphere of hopelessness, really playing on the last words of the song, “deliverance, thrown back at me… deliverance, laughing at me.” As a drummer I really appreciate the last few minutes of the title track.
Speaking of drumming, holy crap did Martin Lopez ever break out with this album. Where was he hiding this? He was certainly fantastic and versatile on the previous three albums but in Deliverance he opens his drumming up to a whole other level. He plays so much more freely and openly here, playing licks and fills and tasteful, complex and heavy rhythms that at times take the lead in a song more than the string instruments do. I don’t know if he was just exercising more restraint in earlier work or if he challenged himself to play above and beyond, but damn did it pay off in spades. His work on Deliverance inspires me to this day.
“A Fair Judgement” is heavy in that way I described, that is more about tone and atmosphere and feeling than about heavy guitars or vocals. There is no screaming or growling on the track but it is still oppressively heavy if you immerse yourself in it.
It’s in the final two tracks that this album does lose some steam, and where you get where the band was coming from in interviews when they describe the difficulty of recording two albums at once and in a studio with all sorts of problems, on top of the lack of rehearsal. “Master’s Apprentices” and “By the Pain I See In Others” are still great tracks in my opinion, but they do display in some parts a lack of polish and direction, as if Akerfeldt and co. along with Steve Wilson just tried to throw as many tricks and changes into the songs as possible to offset the lack of great structure and flow. I still love those songs and I think “By the Pain” is sorely underrated, but they are good reasons to point to Deliverance being a less coherent, less polished creation than Blackwater Park, or even Damnation, since Damnation benefits from being stripped down, simpler, and not having to live up to the epic proportions of having dynamic, 10 minute plus progressive death metal tracks from start to finish.
Overall I cherish this album greatly and highly recommend it to anyone who digs Blackwater Park or other albums in a similar vein such as Disillusion’s Back to Times of Splendor or Enslaved’s Riitir.