With the recent release of Opeth's new single starting the hype machine for the upcoming "Sorceress" album, I went back and revisited the majority of the Opeth discography. Rather than run through each and every album, I'm going to present my picks for my half dozen favorite Opeth tracks. Some albums get ignored completely, while some get multiple tracks included. While I will eventually do a discography as the new album approaches, this should give a clue as to what you can expect. So, without further ago, here are my favorite Opeth songs:
Ghost Of Perdition (Ghost Reveries)
The epic opener from the album that seems to get overlooked fairly often, Opeth presents us perhaps their most fully formed epic. Over these ten minutes, we get a range of varied sounds that include Opeth at their most brutal, and at their most beautiful. This album marked the pinnacle of Mikael's abilities as a dual vocalist, which he puts to get use throughout this track. It essentially serves as a ten minute illustration that can be shown to anyone who wants to know what Opeth is all about. It is the purest distillation of their sound.
Reverie/Harlequin Forest (Ghost Reveries)
The song that marked the transition to the future. The mixture of heavy metal guitars with Mikael's clean singing hinted that Opeth was moving in a different direction, and they signaled it with one of their best songs. Even at its heaviest, the guitars remain more melodic than the typical Opeth song (even hinting at the direction of the next song on this list), and Mikael pulls out some fantastic melodies. This was the progressive spirit of Opeth, doing some new and unexpected things, which was far more interesting than their later rehashing of progressive tropes.
Opeth's softer side is not always appreciated, but it includes some of their very best material. "Burden" is the best song that Opeth has written over the course of the last three albums. It's a pure soft-rock ballad, but Mikael's vocals and melodies are nothing short of gorgeous, and the lengthy guitar melodies played by him and Frederick are mesmerizing. It's old-school prog worship in the same vain as their most recent albums, but done far better. Opeth has never sounded more beautiful than on this song. It single-handedly made it possible to see how they could leave metal behind and still be successful, even if they have fumbled that ball.
Godhead's Lament (Still Life)
Opeth's career was defined by the balance between crushing death metal and soft acoustic passages, and never was the balance better than on "Still Life", and this track in particular. The first half of the song gives us Opeth the death metal band, but it's the melodic second half that elevates this into something special. We hear that melody in the guitar playing, and then it unfolds through the vocals, as Mikael lets out one of his most captivating lines. You'll know what I mean as soon as you hear it. Opeth's genius was found here, taking complex music and giving it a simple and memorable hook. It's fantastic, and something even they struggled to replicate with regularity.
Face Of Melinda (Still Life)
The softer side of Opeth was always based in traditional folk music, but on this song it shifted into jazz territory. The shuffling rhythm and cut-off chords are pure jazz, and among the most interesting pieces of music Opeth has ever played. It's a ballad that is completely unique to the world of metal, an intricate song that could be enjoyed both deeply and on the surface. But it gets better when the guitars turn on the distortion. Mikael's riff there is probably the best he's ever written, using the ringing accent notes of non-standard chords to show an unsettled atmosphere, and to keep us a bit off-balance as we listen. It's a one-off in their career, and probable for good reason. I doubt Mikael could ever write anything in that style any better.
And without question, the single greatest song in the Opeth catalog:
Bleak (Blackwater Park)
If there is one song that defines Opeth to me, it is "Bleak". These nine minutes are the most flawlessly written and executed in all of their career, and are high up on the list of the best even tangential death metal ever recorded. The first half of the song is death metal as only Mikael and a few others can do, building heavy riffs into a song that has a real melodic flair in the growled vocals. That part of the song is catchy and singable on it's own. Then, the song unfolds into the chorus to end all Opeth choruses. With Steven Wilson's help, the song's clean vocal melodies and guitar soloing cascade melody atop melody, hook upon hook. It's almost unfathomable that the same peope who were just playing brutal death metal could turn around and within the same song unleash a truly phenomenal song, full stop. It is easily Opeth's apex, and in some ways I think it set the bar so high that they were always cursed to fall short of expectations from there on, no matter what they did.