Sound — 8
On the back of what many considered to be their greatest musical achievement, 2001's "Blackwater Park", Opeth returned a year later with the first half of what was originally conceived to be a double album, the other half subsequently released the following year as "Damnation". Rarely, if ever, have Opeth sounded as tight as they do on "Deliverance", a credit not only to original member & songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt, but also the truly formidable rhythm section of drummer Martin Lopez & bassist Martin Mendez, both providing a formidable backbone for the guitars of Mikael Akerfeldt & Peter Lindgren. True to form, "Deliverance" is at times a long, if not exhaustive listen, especially to those unfamiliar with the band's output, featuring no less 5 songs stretching out past the 10 minute mark, two over 13 minutes. Lone instrumental piece "For Absent Friends" is the only track not reaching the 10 minute mark, acoustic guitars instead offering two minutes of respite before the band launches into the album's twin closing epics. Album opener "Wreath" sets the pace for most of the album, Martin Lopez's signature drum rolls the most immediate start to any Opeth album before or since, giving way to some of the heaviest riffs of the bands career, the intensity never letting up once until nearly 8 minutes in to the song. Next in order of tracklisting is the epic title track, featuring the first real clean sections of the album so far, though still very much the second metal dominated song in a row. Martin Lopez's mastery of double-kick drumming is showcased throughout, none more than the song's pummeling, almost hypnotic outro, further enhanced by the appearance of a booming piano chord or two in the bass register during the climax, courtesy of returning producer & Porcupine Tree songwriter Steven Wilson. Wilson's influence can be felt throughout the album, much like on the previous year's "Blackwater Park", also produced by the Porcupine Tree frontman. In the tradition of previous epics "Face Of Melinda" & "The Drapery Falls", from "Still Life" & "Blackwater Park" respectively, stunning third track "A Fair Judgement" showcases the entire range of the band's extensive musical palette, from the opening piano chords of producer & collaborator Steven Wilson to the trippy, almost jazzy leanings introduced by frontman Mikael Akerfeldt when the songs first vocals are heard, right through to the full-bore doom metal riffing that ends the song. Also of note is the song's stunning climax about midway through, when axemen Akerfeldt & Peter Lindgren launch into a heart wrenching dual guitar solo, surely the highlight of a stunning album so far. Next, we have the aforementioned instrumental "For Absent Friends" (a homage to the Genesis song of the same name, perhaps?), which leads us into many a fan favourite, the multifaceted epic "Master's Apprentices". The first half of the song finds the band treading on Morbid Angel territory, and once again finds stickman Martin Lopez at his best, laying down a steady, if not speady double bass pattern to provide the perfect backdrop for the rest of the band. The song then takes a drastic left-turn as the band trade in the furious metal guitars & guttural death vocals for acoustic guitars and warm, achingly gorgeous melodies, before, in true Opeth style, doing a complete 180 before the song has run its course. Last song on the album, the overly drawn out "By The Pain I See In Others", is a bit of a mixed bag, containing as many dull moments as it does highlights, and is slightly amateurish in it's arrangement for a band as consistently brilliant as Opeth. Nonetheless, despite being the weakest song on the album, it is by no means a bad track, and it does not affect the overall flow of the album. Much like their previous efforts, "Deliverance" only reveals the true scope of it's artistic vision as the album goes along, demanding multiple listens to fully appreciate, and ultimately, it's many subtleties.
Lyrics — 8
Death and despair is presumably never far from Mikael Akerfeldt's mind come time to pen the lyrics for each of his albums, and "Deliverance" is no exception. In the title track, the presumably metaphorical act of drowning someone in the sea depicted me in the song's lyrics ("Face down beneath the waterline gazing down into the deep") conjures up an atmosphere as dark as the music itself. The vocals themselves are superb throughout, every guttural growl and delicate melody delivered with conviction and sincerity, another career highlight for Akerfeldt.
Overall Impression — 8
Despite being arguably the band's heaviest collective effort, "Deliverance" is all the while more subtle than it's predecessors, it's dark-to-light musical transitions executed with a technical precision only Opeth possess. It also showcases the Mendez-Lopez lineup at it's blistering best, something not to be taken lightly given their other consistently high-quality releases.