OPETH — Orchid (review)

OPETH — Orchid album cover Album · 1995 · Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
siLLy puPPy
When it comes to progressive extreme metal, no story would be complete without a reference to Sweden’s OPETH, a band that started out as just another pioneering death metal band from the Swedish underground but would soon blossom into one of the most unique metal bands of any genre. While long associated with Mikael Åkerfeldt who has been the only member to appear on every single OPETH release, the band was actually formed in 1989 by the original vocalist David Isberg who after finding a lineup would soon solicit band membership from former Eruption band member Åkerfeldt. For whatever reason the other band members rejected this decision and soon departed and the pair were left together to start anew.

Interestingly the band name came form the word “Opet” which was taken form the Wilbur Smith novel “The Sunbird” and is the name of a fictional Phoenician city in South Africa which translated into “City Of The Moon.” After a ridiculous amount of personnel changes, the whole thing became too much for founder Isberg who left the band in 1992 which allowed Åkerfeldt to take control of the project and the rest is history. After the tumultuous start Åkerfeldt took the bull by the horns and recruited the new lineup of guitarist Peter Lindgren, percussionist / pianist Anders Nordin and bassist Johan De Faralla. OPETH was quite lucky in the fact that they circumvented the whole demo thing after Lee Barrett of Candlelight Records offered to sign the band with a mere exposure to a rehearsal.

OPETH were also fortunate to have tutelage of the metal veteran Dan Swanö who participated in not only the production and engineering but also provided the necessary funding and mentoring of what he deemed a promising talent emerging. While 1994 was spent developing the band’s sound and recording the debut ORCHID, the album finally emerged in May 1995 to mixed reviews. Riding the initial explosive underground growth of both the death and black metal scenes as well as the progressive rock revival of the early 90s, OPETH was one of the most audacious bands to emerge in the mid-90s with roots in all of the above and delivered an epic progressive death metal sound well beyond the scope of other extreme metal contemporaries. ORCHID was both bellicosely brutal as well as tenderly melodically beautiful.

Unlike the following OPETH releases, ORCHID is a far more diverse album that introduced the reverie of classic 70s progressive rock wrapped up in blackened death metal clothing that allowed complex epic length tracks to unfold on ever-changing journeys that embarked on heavy death metal riffing, folk music, subdued acoustic classically inspired guitar parts and piano parts along with death metal growls, black metal shrieks and even clean melodic vocals. The mood is one of complete depressive annihilation with pummeling distortion and frenetic vocal insanity to sublime twin guitar sweeping melodies that evoke calmness, placidity and the light of eternal hope. This rollercoaster ride is a true metal mood swing as the alternating dynamics sound as bipolar a concert that would feature Morbid Angel playing with Simon & Garfunkel.

ORCHID is the test of perseverance and patience as the original album clocks in close to 66 minutes and most later releases contain the early underproduced demo “Into The Frost Of Winter” as a bonus track. The inclusion as a bonus was a wise move as it demonstrates how quickly the band had grown from a brutal raw black / death metal band to the sheer sophisticated prowess of this debut studio album where five of the seven tracks exceed eleven minutes, one is close to ten and the only two short tracks are the acoustic interludes of “Silhouette” and “Requiem.” Åkerfeldt was obsessed with the occult during these years and likewise the lyrics are dark and twisted about Satanism and evil and likewise the downtuned guitars and overall sound was created to accompany the gloominess of the underworld.

In many ways ORCHID encapsulates the entire career of what OPETH would become on the more successful following albums. The brutal death prog that mixed extreme metal and 70s progressive rock was already fully developed as were the myriad ingredients of heaviness with folk, classical and even jazzy extra touches. While i may be in the minority, i truly find ORCHID to be the most captivating album of OPETH’s entire discography as it embraces a wider spectrum of sounds that would be jettisoned for the more streamlined albums to come. One of my biggest complaints about the majority of OPETH albums is that the percussion is tamped down to simply keep the beat of the compositional flow. Not so on ORCHID where fully fueled bombast is allowed off the leash as much as it is tamed into submission.

Likewise this is the album that is allowed to express the most extreme examples of death metal with faster tempos, blastbeats and absolute fury delivered in Åkerfeldt’s unique vocal style. While many may find this one a bit too long for its own good, i find the opposite true as it more than any other OPETH album has enough changes in the tempos, dynamics, intensity and stylistic shifts that allow the melodies to exhibit extreme beauty and the bombast to pummel the senses. Even within the greater OPETH canon, ORCHID is utterly unique and single-handedly launched a completely new strain of death prog just at the time when bands like Dream Theater and Anglagard were reviving the progressive rock scene from its lengthy slumber. Yes, i stand in a lonely room but ORCHID is the epitome of what i consider the perfect OPETH sound and there is not one track that doesn’t shine as brilliantly a supernova in the heavens above. A woefully underrated masterpiece to my ears.
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