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Opeth

Roadrunner

A death-metal guitarist, a keyboardist who thinks he’s in Uriah Heep, a Uruguayan rhythm section, and another death-metal guitarist/vocalist who can’t decide whether he wants to sing “Dust in the Wind” or bray like Beelzebub: Sweden’s Opeth seems to be suffering a collective case of split-personality disorder. This affliction leaves the band unable to decide between being full-throttle Scandinavian church-burners or an homage to the greatest ’70s prog outfit you’ve never heard of. Frontman Mikael Akerfeldt joined Opeth in 1991 with the goal of creating “the most evil band in the world,” and, given that four of Opeth’s new Ghost Reveries’ eight tracks pass the 10-minute mark, sticklers for brevity may conclude that he’s succeeded. Members of that particular audience will quickly find themselves in way over their heads, but Ghost Reveries was never directed at them. The record’s target demo is clearly 48-year-olds who dig Styx and 15-year-old Hellhammer fans who smell suspiciously of the graveyard and gasoline. “Beneath the Mire,” a Middle Eastern–flavored rave-up, is fueled by Mellotron and power chords and reeks of dark magic; special guest Satan handles vocals. “Atonement” mines a similar vein of exoticism with big desert riffs and tablalike percussion, over which Akerfeldt delivers Sweden’s best approximation of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. “The Baying of the Hounds” is a 10:41 tear across moors of sound, replete with abrupt tempo changes, hellhound hiccups, opportunities for award-winning air-guitar solos, passages of unbecoming prettiness, and sudden blitzkriegs on your eardrums. It’s epic and surprisingly melodic—as are the other saga-lengths—and demonstrates that, for these traditionalists, eclecticism is method. Somehow, most of what these pastiche geniuses attempt works; even “Hours of Wealth,” which has Akerfeldt searching for his lost soul amid lounge-jazz keyboards and Roger Waters’ guitar, is comfortably numbing. Only the album-closing “Isolation Years,” wherein Akerfeldt takes his Kansas fetish too far by adopting a Steve Walsh–ish young-man-with-old-soul voice, falters. But it’s not even four minutes long. By Opeth standards, that’s not a song it all. It’s a Beelzebelch. —Michael Little