While firmly rooted in Scandinavian death metal, Opeth has consistently incorporated influence by progressive music, folk, blues rock and jazz into their usually lengthy songs. Many compositions include acoustic guitar interludes and strong dynamic shifts, as well as both growling and clean vocals. Though they rarely toured in support of their first four albums, Opeth conducted their first world tour after the 2001 release of Blackwater Park.
Opeth has released nine studio albums, two live albums, one box set, and one DVD. The band released its debut album Orchid in 1995, but did not experience American commercial success until the 2003 release of seventh effort Damnation which debuted at number 192 on the Billboard 200. Opeth's ninth studio album, Watershed, was released on June 3, 2008 and entered the Billboard 200 at number 23.
Isberg and Åkerfeldt recruited drummer Anders Nordin, bassist Nick Döring, and guitarist Andreas Dimeo. Unsatisfied with the band's slow progress, Döring and Dimeo left the band after their first performance, and were replaced by guitarist Kim Pettersson and bassist Johan DeFarfalla. After the next show, DeFarfalla left Opeth to spend time with his girlfriend in Germany, and was replaced by Åkerfeldt's friend, bassist Peter Lindgren. Lead guitarist Pettersson left following the band's next performance, and Lindgren switched to guitar. After losing interest in the band, Isberg quit in 1992 to join Liars in Wait.
With three members in the band, Åkerfeldt took over vocal duties, and the trio spent the next year writing and rehearsing new material. The group began to rely less on the blast beats and aggression typical of death metal, and incorporated acoustic guitars and guitar harmonies into its music; developing the core sound of Opeth. Stefan Guteklint joined on bass in 1993, but was dismissed by the band after signing its first record deal with Candlelight records in 1994. The band initially employed former member DeFarfalla as a session bassist for the recording, and he went on to join on a full-time basis following the release of Opeth's debut album in 1995.
After a few live shows in the United Kingdom, Opeth returned to the studio in March 1996 to begin work on a second album, again produced by Dan Swanö. Morningrise was released in Europe on June 24, 1996. With only five songs and lasting 66 minutes, the album featured Opeth's longest song, the twenty-minute "Black Rose Immortal". Morningrise was a critical success, with Allmusic giving the album four stars. Opeth toured the UK in support of Morningrise, followed by a 26-date Scandinavian tour with Cradle of Filth. While on tour, Opeth attracted the attention of Century Media records, who signed the band and released the first two albums internationally in 1997.
After the tour, Åkerfeldt and Lindgren dismissed DeFarfalla for personal reasons without the consent of Nordin. When Åkerfeldt informed Nordin, who was on a vacation in Brazil, Nordin decided to leave the band and remain in Brazil. Former Amon Amarth drummer Martin Lopez responded to a newspaper ad placed by Åkerfeldt and joined Opeth in 1997. Lopez made his debut with Opeth playing on a cover version of Iron Maiden's "Remember Tomorrow", which was included on the album A Call to Irons: A Tribute to Iron Maiden.
With a larger recording budget from Century Media, Opeth began work on its third album, with noted Swedish producer Fredrik Nordström, at Studio Fredman in August 1997. The band added bassist Martin Mendez shortly before recording, but due to time constraints, Åkerfeldt played bass on the album. My Arms, Your Hearse was released on August 18, 1998, to critical acclaim. As Opeth's first international release, the album exposed the band to a wider global audience. My Arms, Your Hearse marked the beginning of a shift in the band's sound, focusing less on guitar harmonies and more heavily on progressive metal riffs.
Following a few live dates in Europe, Opeth returned to Studio Fredman to begin work on its next album, with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson producing. The band sought to recreate the recording experience of Still Life, and again entered the studio with minimal rehearsals, and no lyrics written. "This time it was tough", Åkerfeldt said. "I feel pleasantly blown away by the immense result, though. It was indeed worth the effort." Wilson also pushed the band to expand its sound, incorporating new sounds and production techniques. "Steve guided us into the realms of 'strange' noises for guitars and voice", Åkerfeldt later said.
Opeth released its fifth studio album, Blackwater Park, on February 21, 2001. Allmusic called Blackwater Park "astounding, a work of breathtaking creative breadth", noting that the album "keeps with Opeth's tradition by transcending the limits of death/black metal and repeatedly shattering the foundations of conventional songwriting". In support of Blackwater Park, Opeth embarked on its first world tour, headlined Europe for the first time, and made an appearance at the 2001 Wacken Open Air festival in Germany, playing to a crowd of 60,000.
Opeth returned home after touring in support of Blackwater Park, and began writing for the next album. Åkerfeldt initially had trouble putting together new material: "I wanted to write something heavier than we'd ever done, still I had all these great mellow parts and arrangements which I didn't want to go to waste." Jonas Renkse of Katatonia, a long-time friend of Åkerfeldt, suggested writing music for two separate albums—one heavy and one soft.
Excited at the prospect, Åkerfeldt agreed without asking his band mates or record label. While his band mates liked the idea of recording two separate albums, Åkerfeldt had to convince the label: "I had to lie somewhat... saying that we could do this recording very soon, it won't cost more than a regular single album". With most of the material written, the band rehearsed just once before entering Nacksving Studios in 2002, and again with producer Steven Wilson in Studio Fredman. Under pressure to complete both albums simultaneously, Åkerfeldt said the recording process was "the toughest test of our history". After recording basic tracks, the band moved production to England to first mix the heavy album, Deliverance, with Andy Sneap at Backstage Studios. "Deliverance was so badly recorded, without any organisation whatsoever", Åkerfeldt claimed, that Sneap "is credited as a 'saviour' in the sleeve, as he surely saved much of the recording".
Deliverance was released on November 4, 2002, and debuted at number 19 on the US Top Independent Albums chart, marking the band's first US chart appearance. Allmusic stated, "Deliverance is altogether more subtle than any of its predecessors, approaching listeners with haunting nuances and masterful dynamics rather than overwhelming them with sheer mass and complexity.
Opeth performed a one-off concert in Stockholm, then returned to the UK to finish recording vocals for the second of the two albums, Damnation, at Steve Wilson's No Man's Land Studios. Although Åkerfeldt initially believed the band could not finish both albums, Opeth completed Deliverance and Damnation in just seven weeks of studio time, which was the same amount spent on Blackwater Park alone. Damnation was released on April 14, 2003, and garnered the band its first appearance on the US Billboard 200 at number 192. The album also won the band a 2003 Swedish Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
The band embarked on its biggest tour yet, playing nearly 200 shows in 2003 and 2004. Opeth performed three special shows in Europe with two song lists each—one acoustic set and one heavy set. The band recorded its first DVD, Lamentations (Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire 2003), at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London, England. The DVD featured a two-hour performance, including the entire Damnation album, as well as several songs from Deliverance and Blackwater Park, and a one-hour documentary about the recording of Deliverance and Damnation. The DVD was eventually certified Gold in Canada.
Opeth was scheduled to perform in Jordan without a crew due to the fear of terrorist attacks in the Middle East. Opeth's tour manager distributed 6,000 tickets for the concert, but before the band left for Jordan, Lopez called Åkerfeldt stating he was having a anxiety attack and could not perform, forcing the band to cancel the show. In early 2004, Lopez was sent home from Canada after more anxiety attacks on tour. Opeth decided against cancelling the remainder of the tour, and Lopez's drum technician filled in for two concerts. Lopez promised that he would return to the tour as soon as he could, but two shows later Opeth asked Strapping Young Lad drummer Gene Hoglan to fill in. Lopez eventually returned to Opeth for the final leg of the Deliverance and Damnation tour. Per Wiberg also joined the band on tour to perform keyboards, and after more than a year on tour, Opeth returned home to start writing new material in 2004.
The band's European label, Music for Nations, closed its doors in 2005 and after negotiations with various labels, the band signed with Roadrunner Records. Åkerfeldt said the primary reason for signing with Roadrunner was the label's wide distribution, ensuring the album would be available at larger-chain retailers. When news leaked that the band was signed to Roadrunner, who predominantly worked with trend-oriented rock and metal, some fans accused the band of selling out. "To be honest", Åkerfeldt said, "that's such an insult after 15 years as a band and 8 records. I can't believe we haven't earned each and every Opeth fan's credibility after all these years. I mean, our songs are 10 minutes long!"
Opeth finished writing material for its eighth album in late 2004. The band rehearsed for three weeks before entering the studio, the first time the band rehearsed since the 1998 album, My Arms, Your Hearse. During rehearsal, keyboardist Wiberg joined Opeth as a full-time member. Opeth recorded at Fascination Street Studios in Örebro, Sweden, from March 18 to June 1, 2005, and released the resulting Ghost Reveries on August 30, 2005, again to critical and commercial acclaim. The album debuted at number 64 in the US, and number nine in Sweden, making it the highest charting Opeth release (with the exception of 2008's studio album Watershed). Keith Bergman of Blabbermouth.net gave the album ten out of ten, one of only 17 albums to achieve a perfect rating from the site. Rod Smith of Decibel magazine called Ghost Reveries "achingly beautiful, sometimes unabashedly brutal, often a combination of both".
On May 12, 2006, Martin Lopez announced that he had officially parted ways with Opeth due to health problems, and was replaced by Martin Axenrot. Opeth toured on the main stage of Gigantour in 2006, alongside Megadeth. Ghost Reveries was re-released on October 31, 2006, with a bonus cover song and a DVD documenting the making of the album. A recording of Opeth's live performance at the Camden Roundhouse, in London, on November 9, 2006, was later released as the double live album The Roundhouse Tapes.
On May 17, 2007, Peter Lindgren stated he was leaving Opeth after 16 years. "The decision has been the toughest I've ever made but it is the right one to make at this point in my life", Lindgren said. "I feel that I simply have lost some of the enthusiasm and inspiration needed to participate in a band that has grown from a few guys playing the music we love to a worldwide industry." Ex-Arch Enemy guitarist Fredrik Åkesson replaced Lindgren, as Åkerfeldt explained:
After nearly 200 performances in support of Ghost Reveries, Opeth entered Fascination Street Studios with Åkerfeldt producing, in November 2007. By January 2008, Opeth had recorded 13 songs, including three cover songs. The finished album, Watershed, features seven tracks, with cover songs used as bonus tracks on different versions of the album. Watershed was released on June 3, 2008. Åkerfeldt described the songs on the album as "a bit more energetic". Opeth has planned tours in support of Watershed, including headlining the UK tour Defenders of the Faith with Arch Enemy, an appearance at Wacken Open Air and the Progressive Nation tour with Dream Theater.
The album has since debuted at #23 on the USA Billboard 200, thus making it their highest-charting album yet. It enjoyed success in many other countries as well, entering the Australian ARIA album charts at #7, while debuting at #1 on Finland's official album chart.
Opeth are currently on a worldwide tour in support of the album. However, gigs in Spain and Portugal had to be cancelled due to the Burning Live Festival being cancelled, and four concerts from June 26 to June 29 had to be cancelled due to Mikael Åkerfeldt having chicken pox. Two of the festivals Opeth were supposed to play at were Hovefestivalen and Metaltown. Their replacement for both the absences will be Satyricon. Starting in September, Opeth will begin a tour of North America, backed by High on Fire, Baroness, and Nachtmystium. They will return to tour Europe in November with Cynic and The Ocean.
I don't see the point of playing in a band and going just one way when you can do everything. It would be impossible for us to play just death metal; that is our roots, but we are now a mishmash of everything, and not purists to any form of music. It's impossible for us to do that, and quite frankly I would think of it as boring to be in a band that plays just metal music. We're not afraid to experiment, or to be caught with our pants down, so to speak. That's what keeps us going.
Opeth's earlier works often made use of twin-guitar harmonies, although they were phased out on later releases. "I got tired of it, the whole harmony guitar thing", Åkerfeldt said. "It got out of hand in the mid-90s. Every band was doing that thing." Opeth's songwriting and arrangements rarely follow musical standards, as many songs do not have choruses, and lyrics often do not rhyme. Åkerfeldt noted that the song "Face of Melinda" from the band's fourth release "was my first rhyming lyric". Most of the band's songs exceed 10 minutes in length, which Aaron Burgess of Alternative Press magazine criticized, stating "you can't really be a casual Opeth fan. It takes enough as a listener just to get past the band's epic song lengths.
Vocally, Åkerfeldt shifts between growling death metal vocals for heavy sections, and clean, sometimes whispered vocals over acoustic passages. While death growls were dominant on early releases, later efforts incorporate more clean vocals, with the 2003 release Damnation featuring only clean singing. Rivadavia noted that "Åkerfeldt's vocals run the gamut from bowel-churning grunts to melodies of chilling beauty—depending on each movement section's mood."
The band's lyrics often reflect a bleak outlook on life, with subjects such as failed relationships, nature, death, and depression. Some of the band's albums also have a consistent theme or concept throughout, such as Still Life and My Arms, Your Hearse, with the latter's songs set together as one continual piece, with the last word or phrase of each song becoming the title of the following track.