Here at Indy Metal Vault, we have a series of articles known as “Culling the Herd,” in which a bloated or unfocused album will be chopped down by one of our editors to be made into a leaner, meaner listening experience. It has always been my intention to provide this treatment for Opeth’s Deliverance and Damnation albums respectively, but every time I sit down and hear one of the records in their entirety I cannot think of anything that would benefit them by stripping away. It is no secret to even casual Opeth fans that the records were meant to launch side by side as a double album, but instead were given separate releases due to pressure from the band’s label. While purists may cry could at this decision, impugning the label with the crime of intruding on an artist’s vision, I cannot deny that each record – while certainly complementing each other – plays tremendously well on their own.
Looking at solely at Damnation, which turns fifteen today, it is tempting to hurl lofty claims in its direction and discuss its focus on an entirely clean progressive rock sound or how it is such a departure from Opeth’s past work, but I think that part of the magic of this album is just how natural this shift in tone seems for the accomplished prog patrons. Even before I had listened to any post-Watershed material, the idea of an all-clean Opeth album sounded anything but outlandish to me. Especially given the band’s flair for pushing the boundaries of their songs as far as they could go, and exploring new directions within those parameters. While their more recent material (Sorceress, Pale Communion, Heritage) feels fuller in sound, however, Damnation manages to separate itself thanks to a much more stripped down and bare knuckled tone that still holds up marvelously today. Martin Lopez’s drums are calm and never overwhelming, Steven Wilson (yes, THAT Steven Wilson) provides keyboards and mellotrons to bring the songs to life, and Mikael Akerfeldt’s vision feels singular throughout. This is indeed a rare case of a double album sounding just as good – if not better – broken into two than the way it was originally intended to be heard.
Of course, it’d be damn near sacrilege to discuss Damnation and not touch on the now bonafide classic songs such as “Windowpane,” “Death Whispered a Lullaby” and “Closure.” These are the songs that would truly shine the light on Opeth’s evolution, and help elevate the already high standard they had set with their acoustic fan favorites such as “Benighted” and “Harvest.” Even mentioning the word ‘windowpane’ is likely to induce a profound sense of melancholy within any Opeth fan’s heart. Touching base further on the album’s songs, it is no surprise that Akerfeldt’s recollection of how they were penned is just as legendary. He recounts in an interview with Billboard:
“So what we did with these records was we went into the studio, I had it booked for I don’t know how long, but we had no songs written. I was like, ‘That’s not a problem. I’ll write during the nights and then we’ll record during the days.’”
What this means is that not only did Opeth enter the studio with hardly anything written for Damnation, but for both Damnation and Deliverance as a whole. I tend to find that human beings have their truest resolve brought out in situations where there is simply no time left to complete a task; when it is do or die. From those standards, this is exactly the kind of head space that Akerfeldt seems to have written these albums from, and could have something to do with their longevity, and why they are regarded by many as classics of Opeth’s discography to this day.
Both Deliverance and Damnation were remixed and re-released as a special edition box set from Sony in 2015, available for purchase here.