Wednesday 4 May 2016

Opeth - "Book of Opeth" (Book Review)

By: Richard Maw

The Review

Having only read a PDF promo version of this lavish and extensive book, one thing comes to light; it will indeed be a splendid hard cover book if you have the cash to spend. The cover looks great and there are fantastic photos throughout which accompany the band's biography; for that is what the book is. The book covers the band from the start up to the present day, via line up changes, internal and external strife and Mikael Akerfeldt's singular vision.

It would be accurate to describe Akerfeldt as the band's guiding light and driving force. He even states himself that for some records he essentially directed other band members and bore the full weight of responsibility himself. What shines through even more than Akerfeldt's sense of purpose and responsibility is just how different Opeth have always been. They were not really a part of a scene and the first few albums place the band in the bracket of enthusiastic amateurs stumbling across a niche which marked them as unique.

Certainly, the difference between “Orchid” and “Blackwater Park” is crystal clear- as is the change again on “Heritage”. That said, Opeth have their own style, approach and vibe. You could compare them, perhaps, to Iron Maiden; a band that has become more progressive over time and changed massively from first album to most recent, while oddly maintaining their own identity.

Indeed, the most interesting things about the book, aside from the photos and general story, are the contributions from band members about what was being listened to at the time and how it informed each record. Progressive luminary Steven Wilson is on hand to explain that although the genre of metal no longer interested him, Opeth were something different and actually were operating at a nuanced level far beyond their contemporaries- piquing his interest enough to get fully involved with the band.

Over the course of 200 plus pages, you get a real sense of the band and a real sense of Akerfeldt's dedication to the cause. The man is a musician- not a guitarist, singer, songwriter or a “producer” (eeeeurghhhh!)- before all else. Music emanates from him. He lives and breathes it. His interest and knowledge of many genres, bands and obscurities therein inform Opeth's sound and style. They inform his approach. It is interesting that by the time of “Heritage”, he had simply lost interest in playing or recording metal for that particular record. The rest of the band agreed to go along for the ride and there you have it; the man follows his muse. There are those in metal that don't like the “new” Opeth; anything after “Watershed”, for example, or even anything after “My Arms Your Hearse”. They are missing out and they may well like death metal, or even like an Opeth album or two, but they don't “get” what Opeth are about. The style the band plays in is the medium used to convey the music and feelings that the band wishes to express. The style is NOT the message and band itself.

Simply put, if you are a fan, “The Book Of Opeth” will galvanise all your feelings about the band. Opeth are, for me, a band in a category of one. Real musicians, playing real music that is truly progressive: it started as one thing and progressed to another via taking in outside influences and making use of them in their own way. They are truly one of the best bands of my time and should be embraced as such. As Akerfeldt himself says, the only things that would stop him making music are serious injury, serious illness or death. Opeth may not make death metal records any more, but their attitude and approach is as heavy as it gets. True musicians making music for true music fans. An excellent and insightful tome, luxuriously packaged. The approach of the band is explained here, along with their history- and yes, it has made me revisit every record in their back catalogue. Superb and recommended.

The Book of Opeth” is available here