Review by Shadowdoom9 (Andi) for Opeth - Orchid (1995)
"Extreme metal" is an umbrella term for some of the heavier metal subgenres, yet it is often misused in different improper ways, such as the "extreme power metal" label put on DragonForce (another time mentioning DragonForce in an Opeth review). "Extreme" is often used for aggressive aesthetic, and "avant-garde" can describe any band with various influences that prevent a band from staying in a set genre. Put some those elements into a set genre like progressive metal, and you have the unique Opeth with their extreme progressive debut album Orchid (recorded in 1994 but not released until a year later)!
Instead of the more melodic traditions done to death by Fates Warning and Psychotic Waltz, Opeth has followed their own majestic path that has reinvented the progressive metal wheel. They've replaced the pretty clean vocals and cliche guitar/keyboard solos with long extreme-influenced compositions. Sure the heaviness and growls brings them closer to genres like doom, death, and black metal, but what keeps them progressive is the riffing and frequent acoustics that often make a light gap in the middle of the dark atmosphere. This has resulted in a trade-off between brooding death metal with harsh vocals and acoustic romance with clean vocals, all in an emotional effect duel. Orchid represents the band's diverse influences at its rawest. It sounds more organic than ambitious, letting their heavier elements run wild such as frantic speed and blast-beats. Some listeners might complain about the low-quality production, but I think it has a more modest feeling. I'm glad that the members started anew instead of continuing their earlier death metal band Eruption when adding elements like neo-folk background, otherwise there would be disappointment afoot. With that clever decision, a band starting slow and steady would eventually become an original progressive metal vanguard beast!
"In Mist She Was Standing" is the 14-minute opener and a great way to start the album and the band's journey. It jumps right into the guitar action in a beautiful guitar duel between Mikael Åkerfeldt and Peter Lindgren with resonating leads creating an autumnal atmosphere. The opening riffing would later be reused in some songs from their next album Morningrise. There's also some of the best soloing by the band with stunning virtuosity and no keyboard in sight. Next is the fantastic "Under the Weeping Moon", starting with an acoustic folk-sounding intro (NOT the happy power metal kind), then switching to the heaviness that's d*mn depressive in an impressive way. The second third of the song, from the 3 to 6 minute marks, is simply haunting acoustic guitar riffing in an eerie background that would be scarily fitting for if you're lost in the woods at night after an evening out with friends, trying to get back home before your midnight curfew. Then the extreme guitars, bass, and drums come back with more mighty melodies by the two guitars and punishing pounding by drummer Anders Nordin. Excellent song!
"Silhouette" is a good 3-minute piano interlude. A little monotone, but better than just filling up every minute with heaviness. "Forest of October" is an Opeth classic! Right in the middle of this epic is a softer section with simple guitar sliding, later joined in by acoustic guitar following that pattern, then the rhythm guitar playing power chords just like the lead notes. It's quite amazing atmosphere that makes a milestone in all of heavy metal. Then the technical progressiveness comes in again. Another track that really stands out in this album and the band is "The Twilight is My Robe", with some of the best acoustic passages you would ever find. So far, despite a few unmentioned flaws, there's no track I would ever skip, but one more interlude would say otherwise...
"Requiem" is just a boring acoustic interlude on its own, and it probably would've been better if it wasn't for a mastering mess-up. There's a second part of that interlude that ended up in the beginning of the next track which sounds much better than the part that had its own track. That second part actually gives this last song "The Apostle in Triumph" a bit of a viking metal vibe. The song itself fits well with the title, a triumphant closer to the first story in the Opeth saga! The re-release bonus track "Into the Frost of Winter" is a rare early rehearsal recording. They sound more like raw extreme metal on that one.
One low-light that brings the album down to 4 stars is the lack of focus some songs have, going some place then getting lost. That's one of the progressive flaws I didn't mention earlier. I do like the disjointed effect technique though. Just dust that flaw off and enjoy this dark album Orchid, bringing these prog-metal legends to a solid start....
Favorites: "Under the Weeping Moon", "The Twilight is My Robe", "The Apostle in Triumph", "Into the Frost of Winter" (bonus track)