DB HOF NO. 108
The making of Opeth’s “Blackwater Park”
released: March 2001
label: Music for Nations
For years, Opeth toiled in relative obscurity. Caged to Candlelight Records for three fantastic albums and Peaceville for one stupendous full-length, the Stockholmites’ import-only status could’ve continued had Opeth’s new home, Music for Nations, not been a label proper. And they could’ve existed on the fringes of a much larger pond, releasing hard-to-find masterpieces in Europe and other marginal territories while metal-prone kids in the U.S. were—to a large degree—none the wiser, quite content in the troglodyte brutality spoon-fed to them by visionless labels, marketers and bands. But that’s not how the story goes.
True, the buildup to Blackwater Park was palatable. They weren’t the first “death metal” act to bend boundaries (see Tiamat’s Wildhoney, for example), but Opeth had a different vibe. Instead of being distantly cosmic or arrogantly aloof, the Swedes were approachable. Even though frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt growled his way through classic horror stories (and other ephemera), people related. Opeth connected to fans emotionally. As a result, they had enjoyed favorable, almost fanatic word-of-mouth press album after album. The group’s appearance at Milwaukee Metalfest XIV in 2000 had also cemented them as genuine performers, able to back up their recorded complexity and subtlety and still be “death metal.” But Opeth’s breakout moment arrived a year later, as luck—and Music for Nations forcing Peaceville’s hand—would have it.
Koch had licensed Blackwater Park from Music for Nations for North America. In press and on college radio, Koch promoted Opeth as the next big thing, fully aware of their potential. Support slot tours with Amorphis and Nevermore only fueled interest in Sweden’s most successful metal export since Meshuggah. Kids couldn’t get enough. It was at this point that the ball started to roll for Åkerfeldt and team. But let’s not ignore what Opeth had to offer musically.
For all extremely extreme intents and star-crossed purposes, Blackwater Park is a modern metal classic. To this very day, it resonates timelessly. From “The Drapery Falls” and “Bleak” to “Blackwater Park” and “The Leper Affinity,” Opeth were untouchable. The addition of Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson was also a brilliant touch. His fey voice (and guitar work) was the perfect foil to Åkerfeldt’s bluesy croon. On “The Funeral Portrait,” “Bleak” and “Harvest,” they incandescently harmonize. Stars-aligning kind of stuff.
But the other part of Blackwater Park’s brilliance is the production. Co-produced by Opeth and Wilson and engineered by Fredrik Nordström, it’s one of the first death metal albums to feel, well, different. Crystal clear, yet resolutely heavy, Blackwater Park is also full of nuance. It isn’t the first Opeth album to enter the Hall—Orchid strolled through the gates in February 2008—but it’s likely the opus most (new) fans find heart-worthy. In short, Blackwater Park opened not just new doors for Opeth, but for death metal as a genre.
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