Deliverance has the honor of being my least favorite Opeth album prior to the release of Watershed. At the time, I was still seeing the band frequently on the road and enjoyed the records well enough, but I have to admit that I was much more a fan of Damnation than Deliverance. Early on I suggested that this may be due to the fact that the majority of the band’s best acoustic material was saved for the acoustic record. But as the years went on, I think realized that I always felt like the songwriting was choppier on Deliverance, a critique I later made of both Watershed and Heritage. After buying the remixes of Damnation and Deliverance released at the end of 2015 and reading Mikael Åkerfeldt’s liner notes, I have to say that I feel mollified.
Åkerfeldt’s description—while vague—paints a picture which makes the ultimate end of the ‘classic’ lineup of Opeth as starting in the production of the aborted double record. Deliverance was a painful album to make, and much of it was pieced together at the last minute in the studio. According to this narrative, Andy Sneap essentially saved the album. It’s interesting to think that the outward face of the band didn’t break during this incredible stress, but after Ghost Reveries, things basically fell apart and it’s hard not to hear the album from this perspective.
Another issue with Deliverance—though it’s certainly not unique to the album—is that it’s a production (job) of its time. Andy Sneap was one of the premier producers of his time, but his sound was also one of those that defined how metal records sounded in the mid-aughts—onions on our belts and all. Deliverance was a loud record, but I’ve never thought it was a record that sounded bad or that the sound had somehow lessened my enjoyment of the album. I liked it fine, even if I thought it was weak compared to the records before it and its immediate predecessor.
In the capable hands of Bruce Soord,1 however, I got to hear Deliverance again and it felt like hearing it for the first time. And that listening experience starts with drums. The opening fill of “Wreath” was the first indication that something had changed; the toms bubble under Lopez’s drumsticks before giving way to the offbeats on the snare for which the opening riff is known. The snare—ghost notes and all!—is snappy and full. When the band launches into its lilting 6/8 swing, you can feel Mendez’s bass in your bones as it pulses alongside Lopez’s ride and cavernous toms. Another noticeable difference, here, is the location of Åkerfeldt’s growls in the mix; with all the space available to him, Soord drops them quite a bit further back, giving the rhythm section so much room. And this doesn’t stop here: the fills on “A Fair Judgement” (well, and every other song) sound magical, and the hand drums he plays throughout the album absolutely shine—full-bodied and dynamic.
“Wreath” is but one example, of course. The whole album is filled with amazing moments of discovery; rather than polished, compressed, and tight, Deliverance sounds almost trashy and live. Clean parts with drums—like the first one in the title track—have so much more punch and dynamics, lurching along in ways I didn’t remember. Songs I don’t think I ever even liked—”By the Pain I See in Others”—remade with better sound and a DR of 14(!) shine. One of the things that really stands out to me while listening to it, too, is how Opeth‘s sound is a beautiful paradox. Part of what they’re doing is this lilting death metal, with groovy riffs and fat bass walking under (or, well, in this mix, alongside) Åkerfeldt’s growls. But when stripped down, the acoustic work is so minimalist in comparison. Of course, on a DR7 master (which, unfortunately the CD version of the Deliverance & Damnation re-issue that I purchased was…), you feel the tonal changes, but Soord deftly handles these dynamic changes by letting the quiets get really quiet and letting the death metal overpower you when it slams back in. Giving Deliverance this live feel makes you feel like you’re sitting in their practice room and it’s a feeling that makes the album shine.
I could probably wax poetic about details for hours, but the shining example for me is the amount of space given to something I absolute didn’t remember even being on Deliverance: ambient noise. Throughout, there are these moments when notes sustain—sometimes they distort, other times they just hold—for way longer than I remembered. In “Deliverance,” “By the Pain I See in Others” and “Wreath,” the ends of guitar solos are held out in ways that they weren’t in the original release. This might seem like a small thing, but it’s the small things that forge Deliverance anew. It’s the vibrating bass, the ghost notes on the drums, the genuine rumble of the double kick, the emptiness of space around the acoustic parts in contrast with the massive sound of the death metal parts that all make this remix superior to the original. Letting the noise take up the space it was given in the studio seems small, but it has huge effects by exemplifying the broad spectrum of sound here, while adding a live feel to the whole endeavor that Deliverance simply lacked.
I have never recommended more highly that you purchase a vinyl version of an album. Buy it. But I want to be perfectly clear: it is absolutely tragic that this magical re-master was saved for the group of people who purchase vinyl. Opeth‘s vinyl sells out at a legendary pace and I cannot fathom why the band or their label would not want this out there being listened to by fans. Bruce Soord’s remaster of Deliverance makes me want him to remix the entire discography of Opeth. Hearing these albums with this kind of fidelity feels like scales falling from my eyes. Come to the light, my children.