OPETH — My Arms, Your Hearse (review)

OPETH — My Arms, Your Hearse album cover Album · 1998 · Death Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
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After recording the first two albums with the same band line-up and the same producer in the same studio, Opeth underwent a big change in direction. To begin with, both drummer Anders Nordin and bassist Johan De Farfalla left the band and the drum stool was taken over by Martin Lopez. Though Martin Mendez was to take on the bass player role, he was not able to learn all the bass parts for the new album prior to the recording and so Mikael Akerfeldt played all the bass. This isn’t so much of a surprise as Mikael was originally hired for the band as the new bass player back in the early days. Frederik Nordstrom became the new producer and the album recorded over two months and in three studios in 1997 and released a year later on Candlelight Records.

With all these changes, the band’s sound was altered dramatically. I feel in a way we could compare the differences to Deep Purple’s “Shades of Deep Purple” and “The Book of Taliesyn” versus “In Rock”. The psychedelic/progressive/hard rock style of these first two, very similar albums gets replaced by thundering, loud heavy rock on “In Rock”. Likewise, I see “Orchid” and “Morningrise” as a nice pair with melodic riffs and long songs broken down with frequent acoustic interludes while “My Arms, Your Hearse” is so much heavier, has shorter songs, and incorporates acoustic and clean electric breaks into the structure of the song more fluidly.

Basically, Opeth have not only added a ton of extra weight to their guitar sound but also Mikael’s death vocals have gone from a shredding roar from the back of the throat to a deeper, guttural roar. The music just packs that much more sonic wallop.

In a way, this album set the blue print for the next few Opeth albums. A conceptual piece, the album flows naturally from song to song and includes some brief instrumental tracks as well as the melodic, organ-backed epilogue aptly titled “Epilogue”. The acoustic parts are well mixed with clean electric guitar breaks which don’t stand apart from the heavy music like on the first two albums but instead feel like a natural progression of the song. On the first two albums, the heavy music would just stop and a simple Medieval or folk acoustic melody would direct the next course of the song. On MAYH, the acoustic guitars often play along with the heavy electric guitars and it feels more natural when the more melodic and less raucous parts progress within the song. The songs have also become shorter with not a single track clearing 10 minutes.

Reading some reviews and the comments of critics, there are those who give this album much praise. At first it failed to captivate my interest because I couldn’t pick out any songs that really stood out, except of course the obvious short instrumental tracks like “Prelude” (simple piano piece) and “Madrigal” (short but very different clean guitar instrumental). Later, however, once I had all the Opeth albums and I started mixing up playlists and choosing songs, I discovered that I really liked “April Ethereal”, “When”, “The Amen Corner”, and “Karma”. “Demon of the Fall” is really heavy and with totally demonic sounding vocals in the first half but later turns into a Zeppelin-esque folk-like bit that then alternates between heavy and melodic metal with the strummed acoustic parts coming in and out. Mikael’s clean vocals here and on other songs are much better than previously because he is singing with more energy. His clean vocals on the first two albums lacked confidence and energy and sometimes sounded timid and barely adequate. On this album here we get the Mikael that we know from later releases.

In the end, even though this album doesn’t contain any of my ultimate fav Opeth tracks, I do very much enjoy letting this one play through from start to finish and as well, I can easily throw a track on a mixed playlist. Welcome to the birth of the classic sound of Opeth!
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