As I reflect on my musical journey over the past many years, it is difficult to overstate the importance of Blackwater Park by Opeth. Over time, my tastes in music had been gradually edging towards the more heavy. I was moving beyond the mainstream things like 90s and 2000s Metallica and Megadeth. I was exploring more progressive music, and starting to spread out into genres I hadn’t previously dabbled in. But I had one huge hang up: harsh vocals.
I just couldn’t handle them. I found them too grating, too unrelenting. And so, I instantly rejected any music that had harsh vocals. I’d encountered some minimal harsh vocals, but these were more appropriately classified as screams. Not growls. But, in the era after the release of Blackwater Park it was almost impossible to go anywhere online that wasn’t heaping praise on this album. And most interesting to me was, in the midst of all this, many comments about what a beautiful album it was.
That was what most piqued my interest. Comments about beautiful music, even in spite of the death growls, intrigued me. And so, I fully admit, I downloaded it and gave it a spin. (Full disclosure, I have since purchased the album both physically and digitally. But this was before YouTube, Pandora, Spotify or Apple Music. It was tough to hear new music without coughing up the dough for it.)
And let me tell you something, it was most definitely not love at first spin. I could totally get into the music. But the vocals. Ugh, the vocals. Surprisingly to me, there still were clean vocals, and they were quite nice at that. Yet the death growls still put me off. After a time, though, I started to grow accustomed to them. Some would say it was me becoming dull to them. However, I also started to view the vocals as another layer to the music. They were more a texture than a melody. I believe it was that understanding that opened my mind to harsh vocals.
Once I got over that hump, I was able to really start to appreciate just what an amazing album Opeth had released. Blackwater Park has so many layers. Yes, this is death metal. But deep in a way I was’t expecting. There are loads of acoustic guitars here, moments of quiet peace and contemplation. And then there are moments when this is heavy as a freaking two-ton heavy thing.
Add to that the fact that “Blackwater Park”, the song, is one of the most brutally awesome songs of all time, coupled with so many good songs on this album, and you have one amazing piece of art. To this day, I still feel that art is the best way to describe this album. While I may not love everything Opeth has done since Blackwater Park, this album will always be a watershed moment for me and my musical journey. And if you haven’t listened to “Blackwater Park”, well, it’s below so what the heck are you waiting for?