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Music You Should Hear: Opeth - My Arms, Your Hearse (1998)

1998 | Progressive Death Metal Progressive Metal Death Metal

☆☆☆☆☆
















Tracklist:

  1. Prologue

  2. April Ethereal

  3. When

  4. Madrigal

  5. The Amen Corner

  6. Demon of the Fall

  7. Credence

  8. Karma

  9. Epilogue


Opeth are like very few other bands, not just for their blend of genres and influences, or for their instrumental complexity, but because if you ask 5 Opeth fans what their favourite Opeth album is, you could very reasonably get 5 different responses. Blackwater Park, Still Life, and Ghost Reveries are often considered among the greatest Progressive Metal albums ever made, and some Opeth fans are unrelenting that Orchid and Morningrise, with their heavy Black Metal influence, are their best albums. I’m not going to claim that My Arms, Your Hearse is their best album, but I will put forward the argument because I think it is just as deserving of the title as the above more critically acclaimed trio.

My Arms, Your Hearse marked a dramatic change in Opeth’s sound and style, one that is both recognized easily, and yet subtle in its effect. Where their first two records, Orchid and Morningrise, have enormous track lengths (Orchid has 3 over 13 minutes and Morningrise doesn’t have one under 10 minutes), My Arms, Your Hearse’s longest song is only 9 minutes long, and the album has an average track length of around 6 minutes. And where Orchid and Morningrise and feature production and mixing values more typical of mid 90’s contemporary Death Metal bands such as Death or Edge of Sanity with the guitars mixed high in the mix and the drums sounding neatly isolated, Opeths third record has the drums swathed in the heaping layer of fuzz provided by the guitars, and all the instruments are melded into a singular hazy sound. Opeth would continue on with these more muddled, Doom Metal-esque production values for the remainder of their career (or rather until 2011’s Heritage), and they would play a vital part in the dark almost gothic sound of future albums like Blackwater Park or Damnation.

But a metatextual analysis of My Arms, Your Hearse does no justice to the album itself or the songs it comprises. Within the albums dreary atmosphere Opeth have constructed an at-times-difficult-to-follow but nonetheless powerful story of loss, pain, anxiety, and fear. The album follows a recently deceased man’s journey to try to reconnect with his wife as a spirit, only to find her inconsolable over the loss of her husband and totally unreachable by him in death. But when finally he is able to converse with her, she only becomes more overwhelmed by her loss seeing what has become of her husband, and our narrator has to accept he must wait for her on the other side and that he's only worsened the scenario as his wife contemplates suicide. The story is quite beautiful and is executed within the album exceptionally well, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s animalistic growls drive home the mans’ desperation, and the intensity in “Demon of the Fall” makes the woman’s fear, pain, and sorrow evident and overwhelming.

Outside of the concept and story these are all amazing songs to boot. The instrumentals: “Prologue”, “Madrigal”, and “Epilogue”, are all excellent at building atmosphere and introducing different feelings and musical ideas into the album, bringing in acoustic guitar, dynamism in volume, and helping the albums already great pacing. “Epilogue” is especially amazing, and is one of Opeth's most stunning moments in terms of Mikael’s guitar work. The acoustic, vocally-driven “Credence” is another excellent demonstration of Opeth’s ability for diverse and interesting songwriting, as well as their textural depth with prominent, warm bass and gorgeous multi-tracked, reverb drenched vocals.


As for the Opeth signature Progressive Death Metal tracks on My Arms, Your Hearse, you’d be hard pressed to find another album with as many melodically distinct, memorable, and tremendously heavy songs outside of Opeth's own discography. “April Ethereal” kicks the album off coming out of “Prologue” to a simultaneously ferocious and achingly pretty start. “Demon of the Fall” and “Karma” are remarkably heavy songs, despite both featuring entirely acoustic sections, "Karma" especially might be the most aggressive song on the record, bringing the album's emotional up's and down's on a decisive downer. With “Demon of the Fall” and “The Amen Corner” I may as well mention the second ‘concept’ of My Arms, Your Hearse, wherein the last word in the lyrics of each (non-instrumental) song is the title of the following song. I mention this not because it is an intrinsically important aspect to understanding and appreciating My Arms, Your Hearse but because every time “The Amen Corner” ends off with “The demon of the fall” and leads into the song “Demon of the Fall” I get full bodied swan lumps. The drumming on this record is phenomenal as well, with “Karma”’s frantic blast-beats, “Epilogue”’s laid back and immaculately mixed groove, and the mastery on display on “When”, “April Ethereal”, and “The Amen Corner” all courtesy of new drummer Martín López.

This was the only Opeth album that really hooked me on first listen. When I first listened to Blackwater Park I wasn’t so much a Death Metal fan so bounced off of it a bit, and once I got to listening to Still Life, and Ghost Reveries I found the acoustic and melodic sections to feel like they existed adjacent to the album and not as an integrated part of it. My Arms, Your Hearse solved these “problems'' for me, and while I was already a fan by the time I listened to it, I still hadn’t fallen in love with those other Opeth albums (barring Blackwater Park as it was the album that made me a fan).


To me this album captures Opeth’s dark ambiance and complexity perfectly, I felt that its story and concept aided my appreciation of its substance and I think that it is melodically speaking a more interesting record than their follow up Still Life. Once again, it isn’t my favourite Opeth album. Nor is it what I would consider the best Opeth album. But it engrosses me in a way that few other albums do, and it actually manages to outdo even Blackwater Park on certain listens due to its more cohesive atmosphere and the story told through its lyrics.


 

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