Opeth – Deliverance [Finely Tuned]
When Mikael Akerfeldt first brandished his almighty guitar to begin writing the foray of riffs that would assimilate themselves into the fracas of an album that was ‘Deliverance’, Opeth were still coasting off the success of their fifth album, ‘Blackwater Park’. Despite having been preceded by four masterpieces in their own rights, BWP was the album that catapulted Opeth from the death metal underground straight into the mainstream. Suddenly, they found themselves going from playing to an unruly audience in a shoddy, run-down club to embarking on world tours. Indeed, Akerfeldt was living his dream, the pursuing a career in the harrowing yet bountiful world of a musician in a band shooting for the throes of infamy.
But as is characteristic of a band that has freshly begun to taste the mellifluous flavour of prosperity, egos began to clash as tempers crept through the crevices and rose to the fore. In the documentary covering the making of the album, it was later revealed that there were times when lead guitarist Peter Lindgren would not show up at the studio to record his solos because he was too busy visiting the local bars. This, at a time when a lead guitarist is supposed to be shacked up in a room running through as many scales as his mind can recall, scrimmaging through ideas for solos till his fingers shed blood over the body of his guitar. Add to this an unkempt studio with outdated equipment that was causing tapes to get destroyed and there was a surefire recipe for disaster.
Years later, the band would remark how this was nearly the album that brought Opeth to an end. This seething tension was evident in the album from the start as the opening track, ‘Wreath’, begins with a vicious yet transient drum solo by the maestro himself, Martin Mendez, following which the rest of the band trounces through with a barrage of scathing riffs, thus, setting the tone for the rest of the album from its very onset. The song proceeds throughout with an eerie backdrop as Mikael brings the lyrics to life with what are possibly the most guttural growls ever heard on an Opeth album to date. An ingenious solo by Lindgren shows why the band puts up with his errant ways as he unleashes his guitar finesse for all to see. A Middle-eastern tabla groove provides a sudden deviation from the fracas before it picks right back up again and gallops to a close with all guns blazing, leaving the listener entranced from the pandemonium of it all.
This leads us to the title track, which drew its inspiration from a night in which Lindgren’s girlfriend and her friends were held hostage by a psychopath whilst at a party. Declared by Akerfeldt himself as among the top three heaviest songs he has ever written, this is an absolute marvel to be witnessed when played live. The intro riff accompanied by the mental image of Lopez standing by his drum set wearing a scowl on his face as he holds his ride cymbal and slams it with fury leads one to feel a confluence of anxiety, paranoia, as well as pure, unadulterated white-hot rage. The tension in the air is palpable during the serene moments of the song, giving the notion of a shackled beast aching to break free from its confinement and wreak havoc on everything in its path. One’s fists cannot help but clench themselves as Mikael sneers out the words, “Look. Me. In. The. Eye, I’m clear! This is your time.” in what appears to be an allusion to the protagonist finally being handed his reprehension for being the morbid, sadistic kidnapper that he is. The last three minutes of this song comprises a three-minute breakdown during which it is almost physically impossible to remain seated. The steadfast palm-muted chugging of the rhythm guitars accompanied by the resounding pounding of the drums interspersed with a flourish of cymbal-tapping and delicately picked clean guitar notes bring this monstrosity of a masterpiece to rest.
What follows next is the ballad track of the album, ‘A Fair Judgment’. The motif of this song appears to revolve around the musings of a man as he awaits his punishment for a crime he had been made to commit under duress, as he kneels beside the still-warm body of his victim somewhere in the infernal depths of a forest. While the leaves of autumn rustle free from their branches and flutter to the ground as blood trickles from the tip of his knife and putters to the ground beside him, he deliberates as to what could happen to him next. Saturnine guitar chords struck at steady intervals facilitate the creation of a morose backdrop, bolstered by the hauntingly austere tone of Akerfeldt’s voice as he sings, “Leave it be, it was meant for me. Lost track of time, in a flurry of smoke. Awaiting anxiety, a fair judgment deserved.” However, the ending of this song clearly establishes its rightful place in the fold as the band exeunt while conjuring the doleful atmosphere of the innocent victim of this entire diatribe being sauntered away to his final resting place.
In a brief interlude leading up to the next masterpiece, we are treated to a cascade of soothing harmonies delighting our ears during the instrumental track, ‘For Absent Friends’. Transient enough as to not get monotonous, yet deceptively long enough to lull us into a haze of pensiveness and self-reflection, it was a master stroke on part of producer Steven Wilson to have the band steamroll through our senses with the leading riff of the next song, ‘Master’s Apprentices’. Proving that one requires not instruments tuned down to bizarre frequencies in order to attain soul-crushing, fist-clenching, teeth-gritting tones, the rhythm section of the band chugs along under the commanding baritone of Mikael’s piercing growls.
To paraphrase what drummer Martin Lopez once said in an interview, Mikael’s style of songwriting is such that if the song seems to be going one direction, he directs it to the very opposite of that. Thus, in typical Akerfeldt fashion, the band trades in their battleaxes to perch themselves comfortably on rocks and strum away at their acoustic guitars as the transition to the celestial clean vocals that gave Opeth its name takes place. Producer Steven Wilson of ‘Porcupine Tree’ fame lends his voice as the duo harmonise and the combined effects of their voice leading one’s heart to melt away as a puddle of what once was, during the bridge that is supposed to lead back to the heavy section that concludes the song. However, it ultimately crumbles and leads us plummeting towards the trenches of hell as the devastatingly devilish growls conjure a vision of the Devil himself cackling into our ears.
Not wanting to let us go that easily, Opeth part ways with us only after the thirteen-minute closer dubbed, ‘By the Pain I See in Others’. Although to its writer, the song is the least favourite of his career and a filler track to him, the only conceivable flaw in it appears to be the juxtaposition of sundry styles of music that, although are individually remarkable in themselves, give off the impression that there was confusion regarding their articulation. Throughout the song are teasers to riffs from future albums, such as the breakdown seen on ‘Ghost of Perdition’, a track from an album that was to be released three years later, or the polka-style keyboard jam that is reminiscent of ‘The Lotus Eater’ off of ‘Watershed’ from as distant as six years into the future. To further drive home his point that Opeth
To further drive home his point that Opeth don’t conform to the standard trends in the industry, the song concludes itself with two minutes of sheer silence, that are suddenly broken by an arcane passage of incoherent musing as the tirade that is the ‘Deliverance’ album is brought to a rest.
Finely Tuned is The MIT Post’s weekly album review column. It is an attempt to add a new dimension to the way Manipal looks at music. Every week, we will bring you a fresh album; carefully picked from a catalogue composed of both critically acclaimed mainstream releases and noteworthy independent ones.