Opeth was my first taste of progressive metal, and ironically, I discovered them accidentally when I stumbled upon their cover of Would? by Alice in Chains. I gravitated to their more subdued songs like Coil, Hope Leaves, and Windowpane. I tend to shy away from the heavier side of the metal spectrum. This is not to say that I don’t like heavy music; nothing gets me more pumped up at the gym than Raining Blood. But coming from my perspective, as a singer and a pianist, I mainly listen for melody and harmony, even on a subconscious level. Growling vocals, heavy guitars, and blast beats are more of a mystery to me. When I listen to a band like Slayer, for example, ninety percent of the time I have no idea what’s going on musically. I just accept it and enjoy the ride. I think if I were a guitarist or a drummer (or if I got better on the bass), my understanding of the heavier side of metal would broaden.
Luckily for me, Opeth eventually migrated away from their previous death metal sound and set a new musical landscape with their album Damnation. I recently listened to the album in its entirety and I wholeheartedly attest that it is a masterpiece, through and through. Although I love every song on the album, I hold Closure dear to my heart. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals have a hushed, almost restrained quality, especially given the depths of his vocal range and versatility. The instrumentation supports this idea alongside him, as only the acoustic guitar accompanies him during the verse. He emphasizes the beginning of each line with subtle harmonies, which can be heard on Heal Myself, Look Inside, Peel Myself, All Subsides. As he sings the line “all sins undone” his voice trails off and there’s a brief moment of silence. . .
Then the rest of the band joins in and the guitar line evolves into a complex, Middle Eastern inspired riff. The drums are syncopated perfectly and the bass line creates a steady groove that keeps this breakdown going. This section begins to swell with time and just as we are about to reach the climax, it abruptly regresses back to the acoustic guitar and Åkerfeldt’s vocals. This time, with conviction he sings “In the rays of the sun I am longing for the darkness”, which catapults us right back where the breakdown left off. Each time the riff is played, there’s an evergrowing intensity with increasingly added levels of musical complexities underneath. This track, which started off quiet and restrained, evolves into an uninhibited culmination of emotion. And yet, as the riff develops and we once again reach the climax, the track cuts off abruptly. No fade out. No cross fade into the next track. It just ends.
To me, therein lies the genius of it all. A track called Closure that does not give the audience closure. One of the most unique breakdowns that does not fully develop, that does not resolve. As I listen to the last two minutes of Closure, I never want it to end. I savor each and every nuance, because I know it will only end suddenly. A lot of people have theories regarding this, but I think this was very intentional. How often in life do we really get closure? When we lose a loved one unexpectedly, we may understand the “how” but do we ever understand the “why”? When we receive a “we have moved on to a more qualified candidate” email, do we ever get a real explanation as to why we were passed by ?” Will we ever understand what truly happens after death? Will we ever know if there is life on other planets? Will we ever know what happened to Amelia Earhart?
Do we ever get closure?
Listen to Damnation on: