Opeth’s sophomore effort was released by Candlelight Records in June of 1996. It follows the groundwork laid by the debut, “Orchid”, and is very similar in style and sound. Basically, the same four musicians - Mikael Akerfeldt (vo/g), Peter Lindgren (g), Anders Nordin (dr), and Johan De Farfalla (bass) returned to Unisound Studios with Dan Swano as producer once again. As a year had passed between the recording and the release of “Orchid”, the band had already begun work on the material that would eventually surface on “Morningrise”.
Stylistically, both albums employ the same approach of composing songs of ten minutes’ length or more with the melodic heavy guitar riffs punctuated by acoustic guitar interludes and hoarsely screamed death vocals that occasionally permit clean vocal contributions. The songs tend to be more like journeys with the music of each song usually moving on to new territory rather than revisiting early riffs and melodies. The two differences that stand out the most for me is first that “Orchid” came with two short instrumental tracks while “Morningrise” instead delivers a 20-minute epic in “Black Rose Immortal” and the other is that the echoing reverb on the guitars of “Orchid” has been almost wholly dispensed with here. This reduced reverb makes the production sound cleaner and a bit more up to date as I felt “Orchid” came across more like a mid-eighties recording.
As with its predecessor, the songs on “Morningrise” follow a similar pattern of heavy-acoustic-heavy-acoustic so closely that you can almost set your watch to when the first acoustic break is going to come up. However, one subtle difference that I felt I picked up on is that “Orchid” tends more towards a simple and often sparse Mediaeval style most of the time while on “Morningrise”, it sounds to me as though the guitarists were more willing to let some beauty stand out front their plucking. As such, I found during my latest listen to the album that some acoustic parts offered more to enjoy. At first, a song like “The Night and the Silent Water” seemed over-burdened with acoustic passages but now I feel they serve their purpose more than I had first supposed. The final stretch of this song, from the 7:34 mark, reminds me a lot of Anathema’s “Alternative 4” and the final repeated guitar riff also brings to mind the 1970 album by T.2. “It’ll All Work Out In Boomland”, which I read that Mikael has in his drastically enormous record collection.
One of the things I like about this line-up of Opeth is that the bass guitar is often given a bit of spotlight time. Sometimes it takes a lead role over the acoustic guitars as in parts of “Advent” and other times the electric guitars just stop for a moment while the bass continues with the riff for a couple of bars. You can hear this at the 3:12 mark in “Nectar”. Another thing I noticed once again is how the two rhythm guitars will play harmonized riffs with one guitar playing a simple riff while the other follows the riff but with more emphasis on melody, utilizing other notes in the chords. Both albums feature this kind of melodic riffing and it shows that this death metal band are not content to simply churn out searing riffs for the sake of speed or sonic brutality.
The centrepiece of this five-track album is the epic number, “Black Rose Immortal”. This song receives a lot of praise from Opeth fans with one review stating it was the one track that made “Morningrise” worth having. As to be expected, the song is a blend of heavy and melodic metal passages bridged with acoustic sections. I had concerns that this track might not just come off sounding like an extended version of what Opeth had already established as their song-composition style. Interestingly though, I feel this song has more emphasis on the heavier aspect of the band towards the beginning, and then more on the acoustic guitars in the latter half of the song.
Actually, even though this song has failed to impress me as much as it has some reviewers and critics, I cannot deny that it includes some terrific music. There’s a Celtic-inspired riff around three minutes and the lead guitar at around 8:20 sounds like an eighties thrash band with an Iron Maiden influence. At 9:20, the band even reprise the volume dial guitar playing that I enjoyed so much on “The Apostle in Triumph” from “Orchid”. The instrumental sections in this track also carry on for longer, giving them a place in the track as a part of the lengthy composition rather than just a moment of repose before the next heavy segment. My one complaint is that the final minutes of the song go from acoustic stretch to short heavy sprint and then back to acoustic stretch and back to heavy sprint, the song wrapping up rather unexpectedly and unceremoniously with the final riff being reduced to a repeated melody on electric guitar that gradually fades into its own echo.
The true surprise for me is the final track, “To Bid You Farewell”. To start with, it plays through some simple but beautiful acoustic guitar melodies with the bass guitar following the six strings and the drums playing a simple snare drum rim tap. The acoustic guitars continue well beyond the beginning of the vocals and I am left wondering when the dual heavy guitar riffing will suddenly take over. Yet contrary to expectation, around the 2:50 mark and before the vocals come in, the acoustic guitars establish a new melody that begins to make the song sound more like a track from an early seventies folk/rock fusion prog band. This is no surprise as by this time in Mikael’s life, if I understand correctly, he was working in a record shop and his boss had turned him on to all kinds of seventies prog. By 6:11 a dreamy wah-wah guitar enters and we are really into the seventies’ trip. In a way, I almost feel like this was an early Iron Maiden number that never made the debut because “Strange World” took its place instead. At 7:05 the guitars at last become electric and the vocals are double tracked for a harmonized effect. The track wraps up peacefully and it is then that you realize with a degree of astonishment that the death vocals never turned up once!
I had initially pegged “Morningrise” as slightly less interesting than “Orchid” but now I feel both albums are equally strong and to a much lesser degree equally weak though the two don’t share the same weaknesses. These two albums are very different from everything and anything else Opeth would put forward thereafter; however, they do have a lot to offer for the curious music lover. I enjoy them both as the completed first chapter in Opeth’s album history.