December 2, 2023

When this record originally came out in 2003, it represented a paradigm shift in the band’s approach to composition, seeing them side-line their metal roots from the forefront of their arsenal. The band replaced that with a new insight into ambience, atmospherics, and progressive rock which, together with Mikael Åkerfeldt’s signature lyricality and musicianship, created a record of ethereal beauty and longing – and one which remains a favourite for many Opeth fans.

To mark the 20th anniversary of Opeth’s ground-breaking 2003 album ‘Damnation‘, a special vinyl re-issue was recently announced, which has been meticulously crafted to pay homage to a pivotal and trailblazing moment in the band’s illustrious history. Originally recorded in the serenity of Åkerfelt’s native Sweden, with additional production from Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, the album has since received a re-mix and master in 2015, pressed to vinyl on a double LP together with the dichotomous ‘Deliverance‘.

Opeth – Damnation;
Mikael Åkerfeldt – vocals and lead guitar
Peter Lindgren – rhythm guitar
Martin Méndez – bass guitar
Martin Lopez – drums

The 20th Anniversary version sees the 2015 re-mix and remaster pressed to standard black vinyl, as well as being available on deluxe and limited colour finishes, and for the very first time available on an exclusive picture disc that highlights and reflects the album’s ethereal and bleak visual world. Released on 15th December (Music For Nations) this marks the first time exclusive and deluxe vinyl pressings have been given to ‘Damnation’. And now, as we approach the release date, Music For Nations have also re-discovered the long lost video for the single ‘Windowpane’, which you can see below.

Speaking on the release, the band’s lead vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt comments,

“Hello folks! Our old “partners in crime” Music For Nations are planning a 20th-anniversary re-release of one of our odd records, this time “Damnation”. We want our records available on vinyl at all times, and it turns out we can’t keep stock! Our vinyl editions are flying out. I’ve seen it with my own eyes when I helped out in a record shop during the pandemic. Some customers didn’t know they’re buying it from one of the people responsible for the music. Of course I went: “Good record, good band!”. So before there’s any moaning about “another reissue, another cash grab” I want to stress out that it really comes down to public demand. We’ll present Steven Wilson’s updated mix (first available in 2015 or thereabouts) on limited edition opaque and transparent vinyl as well as on a picture disc, which I believe is the first time ever.

 “Damnation” is a special record, even if they’re all special to me. I remember hearing the first mix on headphones in a crummy hotel somewhere in the UK. I had trouble believing it was us, myself, Peter, Lopez, Mendez (as well as ol’ Steve on keys). It was completely different from anything we’d done up to that point, and quite frankly, since. Out of all of our records, I think this one is most suitable for the vinyl format due to the fact that it is not really cluttered with stuff. A pretty airy recording with 5 musicians and done on 2 inch tapes as well. It’s a record I’m immensely proud over and it also remains a fan-favourite I believe.

Commenting further Steven Wilson adds “At the time I remember getting death threats from metal fans for “ruining” the band!  As if it could be anyone’s intention but Mikael’s to do a record like that anyway.  Damnation was when everyone understood that he was not going be trapped within the confines of any genre or label, and that the band’s importance and influence would be far reaching.  Rightly so Damnation is now seen as a timeless masterpiece, and I’m very proud to have had my part in making it.”

There may be a few of you out there who haven’t heard this lovely record. I’m aware that like their fellow superstars Katatonia, Opeth have a rich history of musical “change” I’ll call it, I make no claims as to what phase of Opeth’s career is the most stellar, and I do know that more than a few of their fans just didnt like this change of direction. So – I’ll briefly review this album as though it was new and you hadn’t heard it before…okay, here goes!

Eight tracks are included in this song-set, the key feature being that they represent a BIG departure from the band’s previously Heavy/Doom/Metal catalogue, this time going for a distinctly Prog vibe that’s really quite pastoral at times. Some love it, some hate the change, but it happened. First up is the subject of the resurrected video, Windowpane. A wistfully beautiful number introduced by a sonorous, hypnotic guitar line and Mikael’s gentle vocals. Interspersed with his gorgeous lead licks and suppoerted by understated bass and percussion, this was a revelation – and a real shock – when it was first released.

In My Time Of Need is precious in the very best sense, it’s wistful, luscious, just superbly melodious. Quite a sparse arrangement but sumptuously performed. I find this a very emotionally immersing track, and it’s symptomatic of the whole album – the interplay of elegaic lyrics, perfect arrangements of delicate compositions, haunting atmospherics and consummate musicianship – really not far short of musical perfection. Not bad for a bunch of Metalheads!!

Death Whispered A Lullaby continues this use of very clean, sharp, minor-key guitar pickings, sparse percussion, hints of synth, softly crooned lyrics. It makes for another “pleasant” track but raises a tiny concern over a lack of light and shade….Closure is similar but exudes Steven Wilson’s influence in the changes of pastoral/prog/power vibes. It’s almost pure Porcupine Tree but – dare I whisper it – better? There’s a Middle Eastern tinge to the vibe on this one.

Hope Leaves is a fine example of the raw lyrical emotion that pervades this album. It’s draining in a soft, illusive way, because the arrangements are so natural, easy on the ear, whilst the lyrics are unremittingly dark, reflective, poignant. Our man Mikael is a simply stellar composer!

To Rid The Disease is another case in point – the storyline is emotional, introspective, depressive, harrowing even – all set within a seemingly guileless musical accompaniment, piano, acoustic guitar, synths and soft multi-layered vocals combining to create a pastoral ballad that belies the tale. A tasty burst of lead licks and piano stanza sign it off beautifully.

Ending Credits is slightly different, firstly it’s not the ending! – it’s an instrumental and it reminds me of those 60’s soundtracks to films set in the French Riviera! Simple, but a truly gorgeous, shimmering guitar solo is the core of this little gem. 3:40 minutes of musical heaven! Weakness is the “true” end-track, a slow, sparse, dark ditty that reeks of Steven Wilson in its production and vocalising. Driven by a haunting, echoing keyboard chord progression, it’s really quite spooky. “Stain me, save me” is a truly dark line, uplifting it ain’t, and not the most comfortable finish to an album! But this band don’t do cheerful!

As I said earlier, the band share much in common with Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson, and this album should appeal to fans of all those bands. The song-set is a true work of art and I’d forgotten just how wonderfully good it is, the arrangements and general ambience perfectly capturing a sense of longing and loss within a sort of Prog style – it’s just world-class, and this comes from one who isn’t the world’s biggest Prog fan. If you don’t already own this Classic, despite the mixed reactions when it first came out you owe it to yourself to rush out and acquire it!

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