Year of Release: 2003
Label: Koch Records
Catalog Number: KOC-CD-86452
Total Time: 43:18:00
The message that needs to be spread about Damnation is this: it's not like any Opeth album you've heard before. Mellow, melancholy and melodic, without any of the heavy pounding and death vocals that are typical of Opeth, it's a sharp contrast to prior releases. If you have ever listened to softer numbers such as "Harvest" (Blackwater Park, 2001) or "To Bid You Farewell" (Morningrise, 1996) and thought? "Gee, I wish Mikael (Åkerfeldt, vocals) would use that beautiful voice to sing more often instead of growling!" ... this may be the first Opeth album you'll buy. And you won't be sorry.
If, on the other hand, the elements of Opeth that most appeal to you are their throat-gnashing devil vocals and brainsmashing riffs, you may find this release a bit too serene. Whether or not you have an established opinion on Opeth, listen to Damnation before making assumptions about it. One thing that hasn't changed is their poetry; dark and delicious, provoking just the right amount of unease, the lyrics remain in the same vein as previous releases.
This album was co-produced by Porcupine Tree's frontman Steven Wilson, and there's some noticeable ambience crossover between this album and the moodier parts of In Absentia (the latest offering from the Tree). Atmospherically, it also reminds me somewhat of Kevin Moore's Chroma Key, in spite of the totally different instrumentation and Moore's spacey synthesisers. Damnation was recorded at the same time as its "sister" album, the much crunchier Deliverance (released late 2002). Yet there is little similarity of feeling between the two. The general tone is one of melancholy, perhaps gentle regret; a bittersweet nostalgic feeling that resembles rainy Sunday afternoons spent thinking of younger or happier days. Damnation manages to pull this off without being depressing. It begins from the very first look at the cover, a washed-out black and white photo that looks like the little-girl pictures of someone's grandmother from sixty years past.
Damnation starts with "Windowpane," a gorgeous number with soft rocking-horse rhythm and poignant lyrics that set the tone for the rest of the album. The gramophone-like sound of the mellotron featured throughout adds to the wistful feeling, as do the muffling effects used from time to time on the vocals and guitars. It gives the air of listening to the music through an ancient wireless, or from another room. Highlights of Damnation's musicianship include the soaring, sorrowful chorus of "In My Time Of Need," the disharmonic guitar riffing in "Closure," and the masterful reprising of familiar themes in the instrumental "Ending Credits." The music moves from tenderness to strength - though never heavy - and back again seamlessly throughout the album. My low point is "Weakness," the final track, which is a hesitant, unsettling song and I find it an unsatisfying end to an otherwise rich and emotive work.
So if you're thinking of buying Damnation, definitely give it a listen first. It may not be what you're expecting. Death metal moshers could find it boring, and if you're not used to Opeth's lyrical style you might find it morose. I found it beautiful, reflective, and an excellent addition to my collection that will see much more play in time to come. Probably on rainy Sunday afternoons when I feel like being comfortably melancholy.
Similar to: Chroma Key, Porcupine Tree
[This review originally appeared May 2003 at the ProgPower Online review site -ed.]
Windowpane (7:45) / In My Time of Need (5:49) / Death Whispered A Lullaby (5:49) / Closure (5:15) / Hope Leaves (4:30) / To Rid The Disease (6:21) / Ending Credits (3:39) / Weakness (4:10)
Mikael ?kerfeldt - guitars, vocals
Peter Lindgren - guitars
Martin Lopez - drums
Martin Mendez - bass
My Arms Your Hearse (1998)
Still Life (1999)
Blackwater Park (2001)
Ghost Reveries (2005)
Lamentations: Live At Shepherd's Bush Empire 2003 (2006)
Opeth Box Set (2006)
Blackwater Park/Deliverance (2007)
The Roundhouse Tapes: Opeth Live (2007)
The Candlelight Years (2008)
Lamenations: Live At Shepherd's Bush Empire (2004)