A lot has happened to Swedish death prog virtuosos OPETH since 2002. That year two of their most pivotal albums "Deliverance" and "Damnation" were released, separately, instead of as one body of work as originally presented by Mikael Åkerfeldt. For one, OPETH has matured into the ultimate progressive band. This evolution has mandated that their metallic edges be not shorn, but tempered, allowing for the erection of a more earthbound and folk-touched zenith. As if 2001's majestic masterpiece "Blackwater Park" wasn't enough of a zenith, or even, before that, 1998's "My Arms, Your Hearse".
The dilemma of melody versus brutality has been something of an empirical journey, if not an outright struggle inside Åkerfeldt over the course of OPETH's dazzling career. "Heritage" and "Pale Communion" are perhaps reconciliation albums for the internal conflict Åkerfeldt has dealt with following the breakout success of "Blackwater Park", and, later, "Ghost Reveries", which put this band on everyone's radar across the spectrum in metal and prog music.
Between those high points of achievement was "Deliverance" and "Damnation". Mikael Åkerfeldt was compelled to write complex yet softer material amongst the harsher dynamics that were long the band's mainstay — keeping in mind BLOODBATH, Åkerfeldt's side venture, lets him release his hounds in full. As it is in OPETH's primary contemporary, KATATONIA, which has likewise scaled down the aggression in favor of elegiac prog, a need to advance has produced some fascinating, if somewhat controversial albums in recent times. That band's leader, Jonas Renske, convinced Åkerfeldt in 2002 to record two albums in order to properly channel all the teeming parts that practically wrecked him that year.
As such, "Deliverance" was aggressive and stately, an extension of "Blackwater Park" without hitting the latter's full stride. Its counterpart, released independently six months later, "Damnation", was eloquent, velvety and mature; a shock to the system, but a welcome one as listeners first got to hear Mikael Åkerfeldt exorcise his demon ralphs for an entire album. Though Åkerfeldt's proposal to Music for Nations to release "Deliverance" and "Damnation" as one creative body (going so far as offering to count it as a single release against the band's contract) was nullified, they now return in remastered form as originally intended.
"Deliverance" and "Damnation" is being offered as a four-disc CD/DVD booklet, and a 180-gram triple-LP package. The booklet version features new stereo and 5.1 mixes by Bruce Soord on "Deliverance", and PORCUPINE TREE guitarist (and frequent OPETH producer/collaborator) Steven Wilson on "Damnation". It also comes with liner notes by "Prog" magazine editor Jerry Ewing, and, of course, Mikael Åkerfeldt, who outlines his painstaking creative process during 2002.
Between these two albums, many masterful moments emitted from OPETH, which still had Peter Lindgren on guitar and Martin Lopez on drums in camp alongside Åkerfeldt and longtime bassist Martin Mendez. Though it's taken many years for Åkerfeldt to come to terms with "Deliverance", no respectful OPETH fan would shun the glorious title track, a 13:36 expedition rocked to pieces by Martin Lopez's staggering double-hammer blats in the later stanza. Nor would anyone balk at the cataclysmic "Wreath" and "Master's Apprentices" for the terrifying if sublime gems they are. “By the Pain I See In Others" is equally a triumph, if confounded by its nutty, dragged outro. The gorgeous, jazzy instrumental "For Absent Friends" and the ten-minute "A Fair Judgment" exhibit what's to come on the wholly brilliant "Damnation". The only faults on "A Fair Judgment" are the random moments where the softer successions work into near oblivion until they're picked up by the harder progressions.
By contrast, the supple placidity of "Windowpane" and "In My Time of Need" from “Damnation" exude on the whispers of acoustic guitars and Mellotron showed a breathtaking dimension more nurtured than merely tried out. The dark cradlesong "Death Whispered a Lullaby" retainedOPETH's penchant toward blackness, even if its despondent sway rings freakishly romantic. The quixotic "Closure" finds Mikael Åkerfeldt's pleasing crooning the perfect setup for a shivery and ultimately loud cycle opening into a mystifying (and inherently scary) place. The percussion-clapped final stanza of "Closure" presents an early glimpse into what would become "Heritage" and "Pale Communion". "Closure" is abruptly shut off and dropped into the caressing melancholia of "Hope Leaves", a dreamy habitat that could've, oddly enough, been an oscillating pop nugget in the late Seventies. "To Rid the Disease" is initially akin to (if far lusher) AIR's moody theme song to “The Virgin Suicides", "Playground Love". As it ambles into the piano ostinato, "To Rid the Disease" becomes downright heart-wrenching
Set together, the immensely brave "Deliverance" and "Damnation" is a mesmeric listening experience and only in this back-to-back manner does the OPETH fan truly begin to appreciate what Mikael Åkerfeldt went through during his 2002 writing sessions of the, well, damned.