I believe I first discovered Swedish progressive metal band Opeth through a magazine cover mounted CD around the time of the release of the band’s breakthrough fifth studio album “Blackwater Park” in 2001.
Starting out in 1990 as a death metal band with progressive tendencies, singer / guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt and his group had gradually incorporated more texture into their material leading up to 1999’s anti-Christian concept album “Still Life” which drew the attention of Steven Wilson, then leader of Porcupine Tree.
Wilson became involved in the production of the follow-up “Blackwater Park”, leading to a shift further away from the band’s death metal origins and having no small part in the eventual success of that album. The influence ran both ways, however, with a marked change in Porcupine Tree’s sound being noticeable on their music from 2002’s “In Absentia” onwards. It was no surprise, therefore, that Wilson was again on board for the recording on Opeth’s next musical creation.
In 2002 he joined the band – Åkerfeldt, guitarist Peter Lindgren, bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez – in Gothenburg once the sessions were underway to help with production and contribute musically too.
The result of around six weeks of recording was not one, but two albums of new material. Each showed a completely different side to the band. The first of them, “Deliverance”, co-produced by Åkerfeldt and Wilson, with mixing handled by the band and Hell guitarist Andy Sneap, was released in November 2002 and was the band at their heaviest.
A few months later, in April 2003, the second record “Damnation” was released. Again co-produced by Åkerfeldt and Wilson, this time mixed by Wilson and the band, it was the sound of Opeth at their most gentle and reflective, with no harsh vocals present at all for the first time on an Opeth album. It seems that the records were originally intended to form both parts of an ambitious double album, but for whatever reason (record company issues presumably) that didn’t happen.
Subsequently Opeth went on, with a few line-up changes, to release ever more successful and progressive sounding records with “Ghost Reveries” (2005), “Watershed” (2008), “Heritage” (2011) and “Pale Communion” (2014), the latter two again featuring Wilson in a production capacity.
Now “Deliverance & Damnation” has been issued as a complete double album and the original plan has finally been realised. Crucially, however, both original albums have been remixed. The “Damnation” record has been remixed by Steven Wilson and “Deliverance” by Pineapple Thief founder Bruce Soord.
Taking for granted that the original albums in this case are classics, in my opinion, the big question is whether the remixes are worth having? Simply put, yes. I do not have a 5.1 system so cannot judge the new 5.1 mixes and am instead listening to the new stereo mixes. The sound is clearer, with each instrument more audible than previously and both albums seem to be bursting with new life.
“Damnation” was the better sounding record of the two when they first appeared, so I would have to say that it is “Deliverance” that has benefited most from this reassessment. Tracks like “A Fair Judgement”, the simply stunning “Deliverance” and the crushing “Master’s Apprentices” were brilliant to begin with but sound even better now.
The best of “Damnation”, such as “Death Whispered A Lullaby”, “In My Time Of Need” and “Windowpane”, again sound superior to the original versions and leave me wondering if I will listen to those original albums much now that this edition has seen the light of day.
If you have the original releases then I would still recommend adding the remixed double set to your collection. If not, why not?! Containing excellent, interesting material, top drawer performances all round and now state of the art immersive mixes, whether together or apart these are two essential records…
“Deliverance & Damnation” tracklist:
1. Wreath / 2. Deliverance / 3. A Fair Judgement / 4. For ABsent Friends / 5. Master’s Apprentices / 6. By The Pain I See In Others / 7. Windowpane / 8. In My Time Of Need / 9. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 10. Closure / 11. Hope Leaves / 12. To Rid The Disease / 13. Ending Credits / 14. Weakness
1-6 originally from “Deliverance” (2002) / 7-14 originally from “Damnation” (2003)