"Deliverance", Opeth unveiled the second half of their epic double trouble pack, the Yin that would match the Yang, the twin brother that came in second place out of the mother, the... you get the point. "Damnation" is the other half of the recordings from 2002, showing off the calmer side of the band. Gone are all the harsh vocals, the distorted guitars, and the aggressive beats, all that is left is an (close to fully) acoustic ensemble that plays 70's inspired rock. You could say this album was "Heritage" before "Heritage", exposing the common Opeth fan to something different, maybe even uncomfortable.
To make this album work as an Opeth release, everything has to be nailed perfectly, and it all starts with the production. Together with the band's main man Mikael Åkerfeldt, we got help from Steven Wilson, whom we all know from Porcupine Tree, his solo project, and a bunch of other bands. Steven is the perfect man for the job in my opinion, because since he also loves 70's prog rock, he knows how to make a compelling record that would also speak to the metal crowd. Mikael and Steven is certainly a match made in progressive heaven, a duo that could make some special magic happen.
And there is certainly magic in here, some smooth, mellow magic. The band goes seamlessly from song to song in its own tempo, taking their time to develop every melody into something great. While it is all rooted into the 70's, it still has that touch of modern Opeth that keeps it from being out of touch. It actually got a lot in common with "Morningrise", except for the obvious bits that we have already discussed about.
One thing that I think "Damnation" does better than "Deliverance" is featuring Mikael Åkerfeldt and his wonderful vocals, and I guess it could be because this music fits his clean vocals extremely well, but it is also because he gets much more room to work with here. With very minimal instrumentation in play, Mikael takes over and guides us through this journey, calmly leading us to a secure place. It is a comforting voice, one that you can trust in any weather.
But as you would expect from an album like this, it does get kind of boring after a while, since all of the songs have sort of the same tempo and mood. It is certainly a record that you could fall asleep to if you listen to it in the middle of the night. However, the boredom never becomes a chore, it is not like I want to skip any track and simply give up, it is more like "this part is not very exciting, but let us see what they can offer next". The hypnotizing vocals and the fine tuned guitar playing helps in keeping your concentration levels at reasonable heights, continuing to amaze with its delicate techniques.
So yeah, "Damnation" might not be the most exciting Opeth album out there, but it is still one with several good qualities, a different experience that works perfectly as the counter part of "Deliverance". It is easy to see that those two were recorded at the same time, and they certainly make a great double feature when listened to back to back. I do find this one as the superior album, because it tries new stuff, while still having that Opeth style that we all know and love. It is a special little album that stands out in the discography, and while it still has some way up towards the highest of levels, it sits nicely as a pleasant break from the madness. Simply marvelous.
Songs worthy of recognition: Death Whispered A Lullaby, In My Time of Need, To Rid The Disease
Rating: 7,5/10 Windowpanes
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