Opeth have for years been one of the most loved bands by the heavy metal public and, at the same time, one of the most talked about. On the one hand, there are those who adore the first part of their career, more purely metal, although certainly not in the literal sense of the term. On the other hand, there are those who appreciate their evolution, culminating in the prog turning point of the latest records.
Probably only a few bands are as divisive as the Swedes, led by a histrionic personality like Mikael Åkerfeldt, whose undoubted musical qualities go hand in hand with courageous choices, but perhaps not always understood by the metal audience. The purpose of this article is to take their twenty best songs, with the sole rule of choosing at least one from each album, and analyzing them, not for mere cataloging purposes but to stimulate a debate, aware of the fact that the band’s discography is one of the most difficult to deal with in a work of this genre, both for contents and for heterogeneity.
So, this compilation is totally based on the personal opinions of the editor and the aim is to ignite a debate that involves our readers, we invite you to post your personal ranking in the comments.
20. SVEKETS PRINS / DIGNITY (from “In Cauda Venenum”, 2019)
Let’s start with a song from the Swedish band’s latest studio effort, “In Cauda Venenum” from 2019. This is a very heartfelt piece by Mikael, inspired by a speech by Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, assassinated in 1986, although not it is a political piece. The monologue, an exhortation to courage at the beginning of the year, is inserted in the passage as an introduction.
Musically we are on the side of a progressive rock that draws heavily from tradition and is indebted to bands such as Uriah Heep and Jethro Tull. Energetic and engaging riffs intertwine with acoustic guitars, mellotron, and an omnipresent Hammond, creating a pleasant vintage atmosphere, with the voice always clean and evocative. For the writer, the most successful piece from “In Cauda Venenum”, especially in the Swedish version, more suggestive and picturesque than the English one. Maybe derivative music, but certainly very well written; an explosion of colors that takes us back in time and that does not disappoint lovers of these sounds.
19. THE DEVIL’S ORCHARD (from “Heritage”, 2011)
“Heritage” is the album with which Opeth give themselves to prog in the strict sense; detractors may say that here is lacking the inventiveness and originality of their first records, but it cannot be denied that mastery and class are part of the band’s musical background. Although, obviously, indebted to the 70s bands, Genesis and King Crimson above all, “The Devil’s Orchard” is a piece that develops on baroque and convoluted prog melodies, but always with a certain fluency. A majestic Hammond is in evidence throughout the song (this is Per Wiberg’s testament, who will leave the band as soon as the album is composed, and this ‘departure’ is also represented on the splendid cover, in which Wiberg’s head is the unique that is falling from the tree) and jazzy and refined drumming characterizes the syncopated trend. A hard prog gem and, in the opinion of the writer, one of the most underrated pieces in the Swedes’ discography. To listen without prejudice and rediscover.
18. CUSP OF ETERNITY (from “Pale Communion”, 2014)
The most psychedelic song by Opeth, along with “Eternal Rains Will Come”, the two best songs from “Pale Communion”. Now far from the heaviness of the first part of their career, they continue to follow the path taken with the previous “Heritage”, trying to focus on what, at times, seemed to be somewhat sketchy ideas on that record. As the first single, we are on the safe side, composing a pimp and deliberately catchy song, but also very successful. The piece is, for what the band played at the time, very focused on guitars, with heavy and hypnotic riffs; however, keyboards and organs are always in the foreground and intertwine with the six strings in a fascinating melody. We can say that it is a sort of heavy psych song sui generis, filtered according to the Opethian sensibility. A great business card for an overall satisfying album.
17. THE LOTUS EATER (from “Watershed”, 2008)
Having reached the peak of their growth with “Ghost Reveries”, Opeth decided to give a sharp turn (which, seen in hindsight, is nothing compared to what would have happened from the next album). Thus “Watershed” is a completely different work from its predecessor, with colder and more melancholy sounds, at times almost aseptic, and “The Lotus Eater” is the most successful piece.
A gray atmosphere permeates the whole piece which, in its powerful and enthralling course, has a strongly prog attitude, with continuous tempo changes and Mikael’s voice that splits between a deep growl and clean singing. The guitar riffs are dissonant and complex and contrast with the acoustic guitars, while a disturbing keyboard gives the piece a horrifying touch and a jazzy interlude is the icing on the cake. The text is very fascinating: the reference is to the ‘lotus eaters’, mythological peoples that we find in the Odyssey, and is used to describe a modern-day man, confused and whose existence appears blurred by his surroundings.
16. TO BID YOU FAREWELL (from “Morningrise”, 1996)
Slight guitar notes open what, in “Morningrise”, is the most relaxed piece. A sort of melancholy farewell, through a ‘ballad’ with a strong prog taste. Throughout the first part, the scene is dominated by acoustics and some bass intervention, before the voice, clean and sweet, makes its appearance accompanied by a melodious solo. It continues in a sort of climax that reaches its highest point in the central minutes of the song, in a complex hard rock and in any case always melodic, and then dissolves into an acoustic finale once again. Perhaps the most linear piece of the album, poignant and profound, in which the most classic influences of the Swedes emerge, first of all, the soft moments of Black Sabbath and the sensitivity of Pink Floyd.
15. IN MIST SHE WAS STANDING (from “Orchid”, 1995)
The first piece of the first album would be enough to understand its importance. And probably the song that will set the standard for the band once and for all, at least in its early stages. It starts with moderately melodic guitar work and Mikael’s voice which is not yet the mature growl it will become, but a sort of middle ground between a growl and high-pitched screaming. After about four minutes the first slowdown and a short acoustic interlude; two more minutes and the second break, completely different and this time dominated by the bass as well as by the guitar, lasts for a much longer time, before the restart death at full speed. The sulfurous atmospheres and the text, which speaks of a nightmare inspired by the film “Lady In Black”, take us to a dimension close to black. There is not yet the intricacy that will come later, although the intertwining of Åkerfeldt and Lindgren’s guitars is no joke, for sure such a piece in 1995 was something out of the ordinary, experimental, and new to the ears. of the listener.
14. IN MY TIME OF NEED (from “Damnation”, 2003)
An acoustic album by Opeth is not exactly a surprise, considering that the band had incorporated long acoustic parts into many of their previous records. So the release of “Damnation” (composed simultaneously with the twin “Deliverance”, even if the two discs were released a few months apart from each other) is not surprising; but what comes out of his grooves is not only relaxing music, but also melancholy and nocturnal music. The initial triptych is creepy, but it is above all “In My Time Of Need” that strikes, thanks to a refrain that is literally tears in the eyes: on a carpet with a folk flavor, Mikael cries all his desperation (“And I should contemplate this change / To ease the pain / And I should step out of the rain / Turn away “). If, of course, it is trivial to mention Porcupine Tree for the production of Steven Wilson, these songs also seem to be children of the less sunny King Crimson, those of a record like “Starless And Bible Black”. A beautiful painting in black and white shades, the transposition into the music of the cover of the disc itself.
13. SORCERESS (from “Sorceress”, 2016)
“I am a sinner and worship evil”, are the first words of the title track of the twelfth studio album by Opeth; and, in fact, the song has an atmosphere that brings us back to something magical and witchy. The introduction is typically prog, with a vintage organ leading the dance; an energetic and syncopated hard rock riff introduces the voice, at times syncopated too, and from here there will be no drop in tension until the end. An articulate and heavy piece, with a varied and effective vocal line. Note only one Gilmourian of fine workmanship towards the end. Surely one of the best things about the band with a prog twist, and a song that has a great live impact. Perhaps many will be amazed by the presence of “Sorceress” in such a high position in the rankings, but here Åkerfeldt proves to be able to write wonderful pieces even several years after the beginning.
12. THE DRAPERY FALLS (from “Blackwater Park”, 2001)
One of the most particular pieces from “Blackwater Park”, perhaps the most melodic if we exclude the ballad “Harvest”. It starts with refined and elegant prog metal, which suddenly slows down until it gives way to the distorted voice, and the product is a magnificent sense of estrangement (“Please remedy my confusion / And thrust me back to the day / The silence of your seclusion / Brings night into all you say “), with guitars that contrast with majestic and melancholy keyboards; but immediately a ferocious growl brings us back to earth and, in the central part, the typical death metal of the band peeps out, in the form of a violent and tormented outburst. But the surprises do not end there: acoustics again introduces the clean voice that announces the fall of the ‘drapery’ (“Spiralling to the ground below / Like Autumn leaves left in the wake to fade”) and the ending is entrusted to a new, complex explosion prog. Also in this passage, the hand of Steven Wilson makes itself felt in a decisive way.
11. FACE OF MELINDA (from “Still Life”, 1999)
“Stil Life” is once again a concept album: the story, which Mikael defines as anti-Christian or anti-dogmatic, of a man banished from his community because he has different ideas from those around him; a ferocious and disenchanted critique of society and its preconceptions. This song is a declaration of love, sad and desolate, of the woman in love with the unfortunate (“And conceded pain in crumbling mirth / A harlot of God upon the earth / Found where she sacrificed her ways / That hollow love in her face”) and was selected for this compilation mainly by virtue of the splendid text. Musically, we are talking about a ballad, acoustic and skeletal in the first part, which comes to life and becomes electric in the second part, while still remaining intimate and touching. A song in a certain sense of songwriting; when one thinks of Opeth, technicalities and complicated scores come to mind, but it should not be forgotten that the texts written by Mikael are pure poetry, imbued with despair and beauty. “Face Of Melinda” is one of the most shining examples.
10. DIRGE FOR NOVEMBER (from “Blackwater Park”, 2001)
“Lost, here is nowhere / Searching home still / Turning past me, all are gone / Time is now”, with these dark lines accompanied by a few notes of the guitar, the ‘dirge for November’ opens, an icy piece that, after a long acoustic part, unfolds in a death/doom that seems to come out of one of the first works of Paradise Lost, with dark, icy and slower riffs than usual, while Mikael tells his nightmares with a ghostly voice and a background reverberation that does not it only adds to the anguish. The final is once again entrusted to acoustic guitars, but it has nothing reassuring. “Dirge For November” seems to sound like a representation of the disc’s splendid artwork: a humid and foggy place where stillness reigns and time seems to have stopped flowing. One of the big hits of “Blackwater Park”.
9. DELIVERANCE (from “Deliverance”, 2002)
Giving a successor to an album like “Blackwater Park” must not have been easy and Opeth does it with “Deliverance”, a dry and powerful record in which the death component is still clearly evident and, indeed, is even more marked than in the recent past. The title track is a long and articulated piece, which starts in the fourth with aggressive riffs, pounding drums, and deep growls but, after less than two minutes, it dissolves into a sweet acoustic interlude; the calm, however, is only apparent, and another riff brings us back to the initial death fury, until another break, this time electric and characterized by an energetic guitar solo, reintroduces a singsong clean voice, before the ending in crescendo.
Note, as always, the refined touch of Martin Lopez. An excellently written piece, in which the structures are complex and changeable as in the best prog, but at the same time a powerful and claustrophobic assault that makes us understand how much the longed-for ‘liberation’ is still far away (“Deliverance / Thrown back at me / Deliverance / Laughing at me “).
8. APRIL ETHEREAL (from “My Arms, Your Hearse”, 1998)
“My Arms, Your Hearse” was the first album with Martin Lopez (the other Martin also entered practically at the same time in the formation but the story tells that he did not have time to learn the pieces for recording and the bass was then played by the same Åkerfeldt) and this is the song where his touch is first heard overwhelmingly, with drumming that is both rocky and varied and guides the piece in its many variations and tempo changes. For the whole duration, however, there is a background melody that gives continuity to the piece; in the second part, after a refined solo with a bluesy flavor, the rhythm slows down and becomes even more melodic, before picking up speed again in the finale.
There is also a short medieval insert to complete the range of shades. The album is the first concept of the Swedish band’s career (the songs are so linked that each ends with the title of the next one) and tells the story of a ghost who returns to earth to scrutinize the life of his beloved after his departure. , but she suffers seeing that there is no great suffering in her, a metaphor of the seasons that pass and of the life that flows despite everything positive or negative can happen. And “April Ethereal” is the transposition into the music of this inexorable flow of time and human life (“It is a mere destiny I thought, a threshold I had crossed before. / The rain was waving goodbye, and when the night came / the forest folded its branches around me. / Something passed by, and I went into a dream. / She laughing and weeping at once: “take me away” “).
7. BLACK ROSE IMMORTAL (from “Morningrise”, 1996)
The second studio work of Opeth, “Morningrise”, is complicated and difficult to define from a stylistic point of view, especially if contextualized to the historical period in which it was published. Åkerfeldt and Lindgren, authors of all music, indulge in the writing of an infinite series of riffs, which intersect with each other and are rarely repeated within the same piece. To complete the line-up the drummer Anders Nordin and the bassist Johan De Farfalla, two musicians who strongly characterized the sound of this record, as versatile and always functional to the development of the songs more than tempted by personal solutions (even if some bass solos not missing). The growl is more mature than the first one but still retains some black inflections. “Black Rose Immortal” is perhaps not the best song from the album but in some ways the most important, as well as being the longest ever composed by the band, because never before has a song contained such a wide range of emotions: hatred, despair, pain, relief, pride, triumph, beauty follow each other in twenty minutes of absolute musical mastery. It can be seen as a suite divided into at least seven parts between typically Opeth riffs, acoustic parts, growls, clean vocals; a kind of mini-opera: “Black Rose Immortal” is pure, compelling, and epic poetry, and represents the passage to the next level in the musical evolution of the band.
6. HARVEST (from “Blackwater Park”, 2001)
In an album that is basically a collection of singles, this piece is a kind of whitefly, which stands out for its melancholy and enveloping atmospheres, and almost seems to give the listener a moment’s respite, so far torn by oppressive and gloomy atmospheres. . On an acoustic and strongly seventies musical carpet, Mikael’s delicate uvula recites some of the most romantically dark verses ever composed by the band (“Stay with me awhile / Rise above the vile / Name my final rest / Poured into my chest”), while the vintage keyboards drive a melody that is impossible not to remember at first listen.
For the first time in the entire record, the disturbing figures on the cover of the same seem to take on a reassuring, if anguishedly somber form. The hand of Steven Wilson, producer of the record, is clearly evident here, in a song that recalls the best Porcupine Tree but, above all, it is Floydian like never before and represents splendid anticipation of what Opeth will be in the future: personal opinion, this is magnificent anticipation of what “Damnation” was.
5. BLEAK (from “Blackwater Park”, 2001)
Difficult to choose pieces from “Blackwater Park” which, if it is not the apex of the band on a creative level, it certainly is on a formal level: if, in fact, the compositional scheme is always that of the previous records, it is undeniable that everything here is It has been perfected to the highest levels, with a variety of details being its main strength. This song is, however, undoubtedly one of the Swedes’ workhorses and, twenty years after its publication, it is often repeated live.
The piece is a kind of dance, which opens in a tribal and mysterious way, with an obsessive riff and a frightening voice (“Beating / Heart still beating for the cause / Feeding / Soul still feeding on the loss”), to narrate a chant in which death metal mixes with folk. After a slowdown that lasts a few seconds, the speed increases and becomes more melodic, with Steven Wilson’s backing vocals dubbing Mikael’s vocals. A new acoustic passage quickly turns into a prog interval that could be reminiscent of Porcupine Tree, before the crescendo death in the finale. In nine minutes, an impressive amount of nuances and a dizzying progression, always in the name of a common thread that traces the path from start to finish.
4. GHOST OF PERDITION (from “Ghost Reveries”, 2005)
Fifteen years have passed since its release, but this piece always holds a preferential place in the Swedish band’s live lineup, with the audience going into raptures when Mikael grunts the chorus. And it is not difficult to understand why: “Ghost Of Perdition” seems to be a sort of compendium of everything that Opeth has been up to that moment, long ups and downs of emotions between metal and prog of refinement and power that they do not have. comparisons. Here are both the youthful impulses of the first albums and the elegance that will distinguish the second part of their career.
In 2005 the band is at the top of its form and “Ghost Reveries” can be considered as a kind of crossroads, with a line-up that, especially live, was an unstoppable machine: Per Wiberg had entered a stable plant and, with his sounds vintage and stage presence, was a fundamental element for the development of these sounds; the other backbone of the song is Martin Lopez, with his unique and unmistakable touch. Needless to underline Åkerfeldt’s capital test, as a guitarist but above all in the voice, which goes from a deep and evil growl to clean as if it were the most natural thing in the world.
3. GODHEAD’S LAMENT (from “Still Life”, 1999)
We have finally reached the podium: introduced by a classic Opeth-style riff and an almost cinematic guitar game, “Godhead’s Lament” is a fascinating and mysterious piece, with a trend that, from a musical point of view, follows the dramatic narrative. As already explained, “Still Life” is a concept album that has as its main theme the protagonist’s struggle against a bigoted society that has marginalized him. This piece tells the awareness of the battle that man will have to face in order to return to take back his beloved Melinda.
After the particularly aggressive start, the song flows through tortuous death alleys, characterized by a cavernous and powerful growl, symbolizing the anger and desperation of the exile (“I hide the scars from my past / Yet they sense my (mute) dirge “) and warm interludes, which we like to think are linked to the ‘Latin’ sensibility of the two Martins, to underline the most melancholy reflections. The melody played by the six strings from the third minute, with the voice that becomes clean and chanting, is sticky and introduces an epic and compelling second part. One of the compositional apexes of a touching and meaningful album, which should be listened to in its entirety to be thoroughly appreciated, but which at the same time is full of gems that can also be admired as single works.
2. FOREST OF OCTOBER (from “Orchid”, 1995)
Second place for one of the most loved songs ever by fans, both early and late, loudly requested at every live performance of the band. Released in 1995, the debut album does not yet have the maturity of what will come later but it is certainly innovative if not revolutionary material, in a historical period that is rather stagnant in terms of novelty. A beginning marked by a doom riff that explodes with the roar of Mikael and turns into a rhythmic death that, in over thirteen minutes of duration, changes its face an infinite number of times: “Forest Of October” is a piece in which the acoustic side is explored in-depth, but guitars can also be found which, thanks to the interaction between Åkerfeldt himself and his historical partner Lindgren, recall NWOBHM, the passion of the singer/guitarist that we will find again later in his career.
The growl is massive and powerful, but less defined than it will be in the future and, together with the gothic and decadent settings, at times creates a hint close to black and the topics dealt with confirming this impression (“The forest of October / Sleeps when I depart / The web of time / Hides my last trace “). The fusion of cold Nordic sounds, extreme metal, and the complexity of bands such as King Crimson finds fulfillment for the first time. Perhaps the result is still a little rough and some roughness will only be smoothed out later, but this only gives further charm to the pieces of this work and, above all, the elegance that such aggressive sounds can release is amazing. “Forest Of October” is just one of the (numerous) highlights of a debut that will forever change the history of metal.
1. DEMON OF THE FALL (from “My Arms, Your Hearse”, 1998)
Historical piece if there is one, taken from a heavy and demanding album, with less melody than the previous “Morningrise”. “My Arms, Your Hearse”, in fact, is a more concise and direct work, with shorter songs even if always structured and with a prog soul (it is no coincidence that the title refers to a verse of a Comus piece), functional to the narration of the concept. “Demon Of The Fall” is the highest point: an epic and decadent ride, introduced by infernal noises, in which death with gothic features is interspersed with a few more melodic breaks that are real breaths of fresh air and that they break the tension created by angry riffs; Mikael’s growl, cavernous as never before, guides us on an epic and desperate journey and a refrain that, with a few simple words (“Demon, Demon Of The Fall“), seems designed to be screamed at by the audience in concerts. But, in the end, suddenly everything changes, the voice becomes persuasive and almost hypnotic and the conclusion is entrusted to thin guitar sounds with a jazzy imprint. Yet, in its complexity, the piece is also immediate and comparable to the first listening.
Everything embodies the spirit of the band to perfection: Åkerfeldt and Lindgren’s whipping and epic guitars; the class of newcomer Lopez; but above all ‘that’ voice, demonic and inspired as never before (“Silent dance with death / Everything is lost / Torn by the arrival of autumn”). The song in which Opeth managed to synthesize their entire musical universe and their imaginary (at least that of that period) in an ideal way; and, among other things, in just six minutes. For the writer, their best piece ever.
The list of Opeth best 20 songs – Conclusion
So, this is my list of the best 20 Opeth songs taking all their albums into consideration. I would love to get some feedback from you and find out what you think.