Review by Daniel for Opeth - Orchid (1995)
I first experienced Opeth in late 1995 when my younger brother brought home the “Orchid” CD. I think I’d heard a track on a compilation earlier on but that was the first time I sat down & gave them a good listen. My brother quickly became obsessed with this record but I was somewhat more tentative. It certainly didn’t sound like anything else that was being released at the time. It intrigued me & commanded a certain level of respect however I wasn’t sure I was able to turn that into the sort of passion that others were showing for this band.
“Orchid” is an incredibly ambitious concept for a debut album. And in many ways I feel it was perhaps a bit too much of a stretch for them at this early stage in their career. It takes more than technical ability to write the sort of 10+ minute progressive epics the band had in mind & although they really nailed some elements of their idea I think they also had a lot to learn about composition. The basis of their sound seemed to be quite clearly drawn from the melodic death metal sound that was steadily gaining momentum in Sweden at the time. There is a constant focus on melody throughout the album & many of the riffs are quite complex in a way that reminds me of early Dark Tranquility. However unlike much of the melodeath scene Opeth tended to keep things at mid-tempo with the occasional slower doomy section. This more controlled approach to tempo heavily contributed to the overall atmosphere of the music although I have to admit that it also sounds a little safe to me at times.
Along with their obvious passion for extreme metal Opeth were already well & truly displaying their love of progressive rock & folk music. The folk elements are very well written & performed for such a young band & I find them to be one of the most enjoyable aspects of “Orchid”. The progressive rock influence is notable for the sheer scope of composition. The five proper songs here all reach or exceed the ten minute mark & making that work proved to be the major obstacle for the band in my opinion. While Opeth appeared to possess a seemingly unlimited quantity of high quality riffs, movements & melodic ideas their ability to put those all together into some sort of workable song structure is questionable. In fact there is really very little repetition or structure to any of the material here. It sounds a lot like the band went through their riff tapes & joined as many good ideas together as possible without really having much idea of how to make them work as songs. They would undoubtedly improve in this area over the next couple of albums but it does tend to make “Orchid” a bit of a jerky experience at times. In my opinion there is easily enough high quality material to have put together a truly great album but it required a less ambitious approach to the song-writing with more repetition & structure. There is a healthy consistency to the material though with every track featuring some great sections offset by some less impressive parts & some jerky transitions. “Under The Weeping Moon” is the track that has always stood out to me as it features some breath-taking moments but there aren’t any weak tracks here. I probably find the three minute piano track “Silhouette” to be the least appealing.
The production is suitable although the drum sound is a bit dry. Instrumentally there are some very good things going on. The acoustic sections are impeccably performed & the rhythm guitar & bass performances are always interesting as well as being quite accomplished. I find the drumming to be a bit simple in comparison to later works & I would have liked to hear a bit more flash in that department but it isn’t a major problem. Mikael’s death vocals are very effective throughout although his clean vocals need a bit of work at this stage. Probably the main element that I find a bit lacking though is the guitar solos. They’re significantly less accomplished than later works & lack authority.
Overall “Orchid” is a good start from a band that would go on to bigger & better things. Some of the elements of what makes Opeth great were already firmly in place while others were still in the developmental stages but the talent was plainly obvious. I find it a pretty enjoyable listen but think it’s probably the weakest of their metal albums.