For Fans Of is a column that takes one very well-known and popular band that our writers and readers are fans of, and then our staff write about a small group of lesser-known bands that do similar things and who we think you all might like as well and give a listen to. Check out past entries here.
Opeth are among the most important bands in metal, and one that holds a unique feature: they are important to two completely separate camps. On one hand, you have their death metal influence, which has become very obvious in recent years. Their dedication to the heavier side of their sound has influenced a host of younger bands and is still considered one of the high water marks of what works in death metal, what doesn’t and how far the borders can be stretched. On the other hand, they are equally as important to the progressive rock genre, and were among the first bands, if not the first, to successfully blend acoustic guitars, soft-sung vocals, and ambient noise with death metal. It is this blend of cutting heavy material, unique melancholy and dedication to a progressive attitude that finally cemented their name as one of the most important bands of the last two decades.
With that in mind, we thought that shining a light on the host of bands that exist in their wake would be a good idea. Opeth gave birth to a kind of sound that is almost a genre unto itself rather than just a sub-domain of death metal. Within it live and breathe many worthwhile bands, picking and choosing their influences and approaches to the basic sound. Read on below for frozen winters, bowing trees and dark tales of the soul, struggle and depression.
What do you get when you cross the thunderous sludge of High on Fire with the progressive genius and sonic dynamics of Opeth? Vancouver’s own Anciients, an extremely talented and downright badass prog metal quartet who riff harder and play louder than most. They’ve only got one EP and one full-length under their belt as they’re still a relatively young band, but both of these efforts showcase a band that rivals some of the most buzzed about veterans of the genre, including the inimitable Opeth. Their debut album Heart of Oak is an exercise in headbangability and forward-thinking songwriting that’s as addicting as it is captivating. It’s refreshing to hear a prog metal band that sounds like they’re born of the Earth as opposed to a computer, and the earthy tones and natural feel of the album only adds to Anciients’ appeal. Their prominent stoner and sludge elements give Anciients slightly more of a rock edge than their peers, but make no mistake, listening to Heart of Oak is certain to stir up some of the same emotions you felt when you first heard Blackwater Park or Ghost Reveries. Fans of Opeth owe it to themselves to check Anciients out.
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Opeth are indisputably the most important progressive death metal act out there. Blending melancholic clean sections with groovy and heavy riffing, they’ve consistently carved their sound over twenty years. While there are few bands that have a truly similar sound, Disillusion come pretty close. I’ve written about them before, and all of that still holds true. Back to Times of Splendor, just like Opeth, is chock full of build-ups and satisfying, groovy climaxes. While Opeth’s Akerfeldt has more melodic singing voice and deeper growls, Disillusion’s Tobias Spier has more of a rough, unique singing voice and pitched yelling instead of growls. The end result is more energetic, more eclectic, but just as compelling and powerful. This is music that will make you cry, both from sadness and happiness. I could go on and on about Disillusion, and I actually did, so check out the huge article I wrote on how amazing this album is. And in the meantime, embark on this incredible progressive journey that will lift you up and break you apart.
Though Dan Swano may be a familiar name to some of progressive and death metal’s more dedicated fans, Sweden’s Edge of Sanity unfortunately went largely unnoticed during their career. It’s really a shame, because Swano & Co. truly delivered some of the most insanely futuristic, memorable, and progressive albums within the already-established niche of Sweden’s melodic death metal aesthetic. Undoubtedly they’re best known for releasing 1996’s 40-minute, single-song masterpiece of an album Crimson, which probably should be heralded as one of the most important and forward-thinking extreme metal albums to date. It’s safe to say that death metal wasn’t ever thought of as the genre to bring about such lofty songwriting techniques, strong hooks and memorable counterpoint melodies, but Edge of Sanity broke boundaries for pretty much their entire run as a band. Hell, Crimson also spawned the greatest sequel album in metal as well. But even when Edge of Sanity wasn’t delving into sci-fi/prog freakouts, they were also churning out absolutely stunning death metal, The Spectral Sorrows and Purgatory Afterglow being the finest of the bunch. If the idea of a bastard hybrid between Dismember and Iron Maiden gets you all excited down there, you’ve got this in droves here. While the band’s production and performances are often much more immediate and raw than Opeth’s, any fan of Akerfeldt’s 90s output should get a real kick out of this. Boss HM-2 pedals have never sounded quite so majestic. Oh, and did we forget to mention that Akerfeldt is actually featured several times on Crimson?!
I remember when a friend first showed me Hope For The Dying. At first I was really skeptical, but ended up being pleasantly surprised at how well done their latest album Aletheia was. The more I listened, however, the more it began to sound like a more modernized version of Opeth. Not in terms of specific sounds, however, but in terms of the musical arrangements. The album’s opener is an epic track with journeys through metal, progressive rock, melodic death metal, and even some technical death metal stuff. All these things seethe Opeth at their very core, and after multiple listens, it becomes clearer and clearer that Opeth was an influence on this band, albeit not as much as others on this list.
The album has many dynamic shifts, and at times mimics the acoustic-to-electric motif that Opeth have become so famous for. The band also utilizes heavy and clean vocals equally throughout the record, and while the heavy songs are absolutely brutal, the more relaxed songs are very laid back and a testament to Opeth, taking a breather wherever need be so the record has time to grow and evolve as the songs progress. Opeth may not have influenced this band as much as the others, but their mark is still very much there.
Do you go to Opeth for the emotions? Are you looking for that bright mix between clean vocals, intricate guitar work and lyrics that will send goosebumps across your skin? Look no further than Soen. Often compared to Tool, Soen actually have a lot in common with Opeth as well: from the prominent role of the vocalist, through the intricate drumming work at the base of all music to the melancholic and dark melodies that are the staple of the band, all signs lead to a band that has just as much head as it has heart. While the harsh vocals are absent, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives Soen’s melodies a place to grow, sonically, that Opeth’s chord progression never had.
The quieter moments on this album will also speak to anyone who is a fan of Opeth’s Damnation phase or that bone-chilling intro to “Face of Melinda.” The ability to create introspective and intelligent lyrics and pair them off with moving melodies is something of a rare gift which Soen utilize to perfection. In short, if you’re yearning for the darkness in the rays of the light and wish to immerse yourself in dark, progressive and vocally dominant music look no further than Soen.
Opeth’s seamless blend of progressive elements — manifesting in primarily in folk leaning style – and death metal has arguably been the greatest appeal of their earlier discography. While some fans have been less than enthused with Åkerfeldt’s recent fixation with retro prog revival, it is fortunate that band’s such as Wilderun have emerged with a fresh perspective on how to convey a folksy feel with the tools of death. Sophomore album Sleep at the Edge of the Earth emphasizes the sweeping, epic tone of their folk influences, drawing inspiration from Eluveitie, Ensiferum & Finntroll with results often flirting with the grandiosity of pure folk and power metal. Yet, SEE never fails to remind the listener that death metal burns strongly at its core, frequently bursting into dedicated passages of ferocity that are heavier, faster and more vicious than any of the heavy passages that Opeth have written. And in terms of marrying these two approaches, Wilderun do so with finesse, knowing the exact moments necessary to emphasize the varying emotions which they wish to convey. The result is a record which easily transcends the bands Boston origin; its title translates literally into an auditory journey through the grandest clouds floating above the most awing peaks speckled across the edge of the Earth.
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