Opeth Blackwater Park

Named after an obscure progressive rock band from the '70s, Blackwater Park is the Swedish group's fifth full-length, overall. It is also actually their first to see a domestic release in North America at the same time as the rest of the world. Self-produced with help from Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson, a modern prog/psych genius in his own right, the record is yet another in a long line of brilliant records that masterfully intertwine progressive and black metal influences into the best Swedish death metal band to ever record. Musically speaking, the record is actually not that far off the band's last offering, 1999's Still Life, with leader Mikael Akerfeldt still alternating between clean and growling vocals throughout, and the band playing with convincingly blistering precision. Any hopes or fears that Wilson's affiliation with the record might end up making it sound much more like Pink Floyd than the band's previous output can be forgotten: there are spots where a bit of vocal harmony between the two singers ("Bleak") sees shades of the Porcupine Tree sound bleed into the musical mix, but Meddle II this simply is not. If anything, there might be a little bit of similarity in the songwriting to early works by Nektar and the initial King Crimson line-up, but I think it's safe to argue those influences have always existed. Nevertheless, this might be the best metal record this year, and it is worth every bit of energy the band has put into the creating of it. (Music For Nations)