Well, this is going to be a controversial one isn't it? I feel like no matter how I rank all 13 albums, it will be sure to upset someone as to why I put Album Y over Album X or Album B over Album A; but that is the nature of the beast and hey, it's my list and well, if you've read any of my previous Backwards Marathon entries; you know the rules by now. ANYWAYS; Opeth has never been a band to sit on their laurels. Mikael Akerfeldt and Co. write the music they want to write be it black metal, progressive death metal or 70s inspired psychedelic progressive rock. Honestly...I wouldn't have it any other way. Let's talk about this monolithic Swedish metal band in all it's glory from the number 13th ranked album to number 1!
1.) No EPs, cover albums, live albums, b-side albums, or best of/greatest hits collections. Just original studio LPs. Albums that have a cover or two on it are just fine.
2.) This is just my opinions on the albums in question. No outside influences other than my own and is far from a definitive world ranking. If you have a different ranking, AWESOME! Keep that up!
3.) The reason for doing this to help people get into a band/artist/etc and give ideas of what to expect if they decide to dive into the work.
4.) This is ranked from least favorite to favorite (countdown/TRL style). I will give a few words about every album as we go down the list.
5.) There will be a Spotify playlist (where applicable) to go along with the list with a song off each album so you can get another idea of what to expect. The songs will either be my favorite song off the album or one that represents the album the best in my eyes. (if you are reading this on social media, click the official link to get the playlist)
6.) Have fun and spread the word....SPREAD IT!
13.) Heritage (2011)
It is so strange to think that the entire 2010s decade did not feature any screams or growls from Opeth and the start of the new era of the band began with Heritage. The real watershed (yes, pun intended) album from this band came as a shock to a lot of people, but to others, they saw this coming for a long time. It's the beginning of their more 60s-70s psychedelic, progressive rock route. There is still some heavier moments to be had, but there is so much more that reminiscences of bands like Gentle Giant or Camel instead of Edge of Sanity or, let's face it, almost every Opeth album before it. It is still a very enjoyable album if you let go of your notions about the band; and that goes both ways. If you are a prog nerd, ignore the fact the band was a progressive death metal band; if you are a death metal fan, realize this is not your Opeth albums of the past. Go in with a clear conscious and truly appreciate the album for what it is; a great throwback album to the influences Akerfeldt grew up, just more...evil.
12.) Ghost Reveries (2005)
No way you saw this one coming, did you? Hell, the only Opeth shirt I own is the Ghost Reveries one. What a lot of fans consider to be their "break out" album in the United States is the one where even people I knew in real life started figuring out who Opeth was and either dug them, hated them, or thought someone misspelled Otep. But back on point, this is an album that may come off as the last "traditional" sounding Opeth album; the progressive death metal vibes are hear nearly from start to finish. Only two songs; Hours of Wealth & Isolation Years are completely clean sung, which for Opeth, on either side of the equation, is almost unheard of having two clean songs. The album features some of the absolute best production from the band and tracks such as Ghost of Perdition and The Grand Conjuration became some of the best known Opeth songs ever. It is a classic album, it is worthy of all the praise it gets to this day, but for me; I just dig 11 albums more. *shrugs*
11.) In Cauda Venenum (2019)
The latest Opeth album is what the newest era of the band should have started with and there wouldn't have been nearly as much backlash from the old school fans of the band. It's a perfect blend of prog, hard rock, even metal moments, but all as evil, if not their most sinister album to date. One other awesome detail about this album as it is performed entirely in English AND Swedish; a first for the band. Both have their charms to it. The English version is easier to digest for a 'Merican like myself, but the Swedish version sounds much more evil, which I have to believe is the reason why it finally happened after all this time. There is a reason why people say this is the best Opeth album of the prog era. Go find out why for yourself.
10.) Morningrise (1996)
The 2nd and last album to feature black metal vibes to the band; Opeth's sophomore album is one of a sense of where the band was really finding it's footing and knowing where the band would go in the future. It's much proggier than before with a higher prominence of bass. The song structures also started becoming much more of the Opeth reference that a lot of the band's fans love them for. Lest not forget the band's longest song to date, the 20 minute epic, Black Rose Immortal. In retrospect, it makes you wonder what would have happened if the band would have ventured down the black metal route more than death metal on subsequent albums to follow. How differently would the heavier and extreme sides of prog be from what they are now? Well, give Morningrise a shot and be amazed at an album that newer fans of the band may not even realize exists!
9.) Pale Communion (2014)
This album is an apology for Heritage or a complete F U to everyone that hated Heritage; I can't put my finger on it. All I know is that I love it. It doubles downs on the proggy side of the band, but also features a lot of call backs to the band's previous works (especially played on the keys). Of course not screams or growls to be had on this one as a lot of naysayers of the band said would happen. But just look at a song like Eternal Rains Will Come; it absolutely feels like a traditional Opeth song, just proggier and clean sung. If you would have thrown this on Ghost Reveries or Watershed, no one would have been the wiser. This is what I feel is the most forgotten album of the prog era of the band and it shouldn't be. It is a fantastic album and really hearkens so many traits of the band that are that classic sound and just stand out as pure Opeth. Go back and give this album a shot, seriously!
8.) Orchid (1995)
The album that started it all is arguably the LEAST Opeth sounding album. It has the more black metal influence the band ever used, honestly, this is a progressive black metal album. While some of the signature Opeth style riffing comes into play at times, it is much more in the background for a more raw, sinister, tone. It also features a lot more folkish elements than I had remembered previously. and I swear for the life of me, Green Day stole a riff from In the Mist She Was Standing and made the song Holiday. Call me cooky, call me wacky; I hear it every time and the riff is so similar. If Morningrise was the band figuring out what the band wanted to become, Orchid is the band figuring out who they are. It's well worth a listen and for the most evil of you; this may end up as your favorite Opeth album!
7.) Sorceress (2016)
My personal favorite of the prog era Opeth albums. It's their heaviest of all four albums. It has a corrupt, spooky hard rock vibe throughout that is just undeniably awesome. There is arguments to be made that the main riff of the title track is one of the heaviest riffs the band will EVER put out. it's a very dark album and it flows together so very, very well. WHile the album can get complex, it's one of the simplest albums of the band's catalog by design so it can focus on the riffs, lyrics and tone. If you want to be won over by the prog era of the band, this album may seal the deal.
6.) Watershed (2008)
The album title is more than just a subtle nod; this is the final Opeth album of what people thought they knew about the band and they really started to showcase all sides the band was capable of. It can go from one of the most brutal songs the band ever put out in The Lotus Eater to absolutely haunting ballads like Porcelain Heart or Coil. Many diehards will say this is the last great Opeth album; I detest that wholeheartedly as I will say to this day that Opeth have yet to put out a bad album. Watershed is that last glimmering shadow of the bands progressive death metal side as it slowly evaporates into the prog rock era and that is far from a band thing. Never force a band to put out music their heart is not into, it will come off as cheap and unauthentic. It's a last hooray of the band you knew and a quick hello of the band that was to come and for that reason, it still holds up 12 years later in the best way.
5.) Deliverance (2002)
Without question, this is the band at it's absolute heaviest. This is the extreme, progressive death metal pushed to it's absolute limit, while still maintaining that great balance of solace space and haunting quiet moments (nothing ballady, just quieter). Of course prog nerds like myself will say that the ending riff of the title track is one of the greatest riffs in progressive death metal, and yeah...IT IS! There's a reason why even in the prog era of the band that Opeth still play this song, almost always to close out the show. It still holds up 18 years later (I feel so old now). Also, Steven Wilson had his hand in producing this album amongst two others I'll touch on later. Not so much on this album as those two others, you really feel Steven Wilson's influence on the band, but I do feel that Opeth really shined off on Steven Wilson on Deliverance for Porcupine Tree for albums such as In Absentia, Deadwing, and Fear of a Blank Planet (well, to an extent FoaBP). For the heaviest of all Opeth albums, you may as well start here.
4.) Still Life (1999)
For no other reason other than forgetfulness on my end, this is my least listened to Opeth album. I do not understand why as it is a pure masterpiece of an album. In a sense, this may be the 2nd most varied Opeth album right behind Watershed. It is the last album you hear any traces of black metal in the band's sound. Opeth was almost a peak classic Opeth here with it's blend of progressive death metal, folk elements and stunning clean vocals mixed with ferocious growls. it's also the band's 2nd foray into concept albums as is a haunting love story about lust, love, betrayal, anger, revenge and the afterlife. This may be Opeth at peak lyrical form. It turns out, it's not just me as a lot of Opeth fans forget about this album and the real staying power. Some may say it even tops my top choice as the best Opeth single (which is completely warranted, it's that good). Discover this nearly lost gem and all the power it truly holds.
3.) Damnation (2003)
Written at the same time as 2002's Deliverance (just released 6 months as opposed to releasing a double album); Damnation is the band's FIRST clean vocal only album. That's right kids, that didn't start with Heritage, it started here with, at the time, the most experimental album in the band's catalog. It takes many nods to the 60s-70s prog that would be a main focus later. It also sounds a lot like that point in time era Porcupine Tree (and vice versa). The song, Hope Leaves, happens to be one of my all time favorite Opeth songs for good reason. This album is a haunting soundtrack of an album and I dare say, is what made Akerfeldt realize he didn't have to finish Opeth as a death metal band which led to everything that would be to come. Such a great album.
2.) My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)
How is this album 22 years old already? Life goes by way too fast...ANYWHOO! My Arms, Your Hearse is the band's first concept album. In a very cool way of making everything flow together not just conceptually, every song ends with the title of the next track, which is an awesome way to experience the album once you start paying attention to the lyrics. But this album has it all, black metal, death metal, folk metal, progressive metal, progressive rock, a haunting story and just a stellar album of the band's massive catalog. I've seen it reference that people consider this album to be the band's Dark Side of the Moon and in an odd sense, I do hear it. It's the band finally realizing what the band can be and going full throttle into it and every album to follow. While the production is raw by today's standards; it totally fits the vibe of the album and just has a signature stamp that you'll hear going forward. To me, this is almost the band's best work...almost...
1.) Blackwater Park (2001)
You knew it was this one, I mean come on! Blackwater Park has everything you need in an Opeth album musically, lyrically, thematically, with stellar production from Steven Wilson (even his vocals on a few of the songs, most notably, Bleak). When you go back and look at the reception for this album, it's mindblowing, at the time, no one really heard music like this before. like a mix of Edge of Sanity, Porcupine Tree, Camel, and Celtic Frost. To anyone that thinks this album is overrated or bland or boring, either you were never into this style to begin with, you overheard the album so much that it doesn't have an impact on you anymore, or, most likely, you hear this album heralded as the band's best album and you have to be that cool music elitist who takes a long drift from your cigarette as you hear someone talk about it, and talk about how the album is trash and consider people who enjoy this album to be plebs. This is Opeth at it's most Opeth and there is a damn good reason it is regarded by people, like myself, as the best Opeth album made so far...simply, it's because it is the best Opeth album so far.
Look, the entire Opeth catalog will not be everyone's bag. You may just like the classic prog era the band is in now, you may only enjoy the seminal progressive death metal albums, you may be one of those people who stopped listening to Opeth after Dan Swano stopped producing them and only enjoy Orchid and Morningrise. I only ask of one thing, give all the eras of the band a shot, even if it is just the playlist I make below (if the band is even remotely up your alley). You may be surprised by what you actually realize you enjoy from the band, what your favorite band may have been inspired by from Opeth, or hell, even remember why you don't like the band. Just give them a fair, honest shake. You may be glad you did!
Till next time, this is That Drummer Guy saying, SEE YA!
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)