Opium Denn – Demarkation

Opium Denn - Demarkation

Pink Floyd. Blue Oyster Cult. Porcupine Tree– you know the sort of bands I’m talking about; these are groups who paired spacey atmosphere and a proggy edge with taut songwriting, and usually killed it with the ensuing effect. Opium Denn are making an entrance with good company, in that sense. Although the angle of hard rock is admittedly more dated-sounding than when BoC brought it to light some decades past, the sound of vintage hard rock has never worn out completely. A warm, rich production and sincere performance never wear old, and seekers of both or either will find themselves at home on Demarkation.

While Opium Denn is arguably somewhat too tame of a project to make significant waves by current standards, having a strong foundation like the one offered on Demarkation can’t be a bad thing. In the case of this currently-anonymous, one-man outfit, Opium Denn earn top marks for the presentation of the material. The music closely recalls something Blue Oyster Cult would do in their progressive heyday; heavy on atmosphere, and not afraid to embrace harder rocking guitar riffs and AOR-heavy choruses when the desire arises. Tight rhythms stick to a manageable mid-tempo, and instrumentation is kept snug within the context of the songwriting.

While lauding Demarkation‘s execution more than the music itself may seem shallow or seem to reflect poorly upon the album itself. I don’t think that it does; if a good song has always been a rare and valuable commodity, in the age of digital and at-home recordings, a great studio sound is probably rarer still. As unknown a name as Opium Denn currently is, it’s the sort of pristine, organic, warm, analogue sound I’d die to hear more often in my listening palate. Demarkation‘s pure sound marries the best elements of modern and classic production. It’s perfectly clear and imbued with richness. Outside of the legendary Steven Wilson, I’m not sure I’ve heard another solo rock artist that nailed the studio end of their craft so well. I remain dubious as to the band’s claims that the production has been enhanced with so-called ‘health-enhanced vibrations’, but there’s definitely something to it that makes Opium Denn‘s music pop out at the listener.

Opium Denn

As for the songs themselves on Demarkation, I’m stuck between appreciating the tastefulness of their design, and feeling somewhat bored by the mellowed out, predictable course Opium Denn takes with each song. Although there’s a decent variety between the Floydian “I Am A Feeling variations and the decidedly Blue Oyster Culty AOR rocker “Eyes to the Sky”, there’s nothing here that extends past the mid-tempo, hazy and melodic. Most of the expertly framed instrumentation essentially unfolds as a Pink Floyd slow jam.

The currently nameless multi-instrumentalist’s voice is given a lot of spare license to soar about on these songs; while the essential timbre of his voice always feels a little too thin to convey the full emotion he’s going for, his range and purposeful use of vibrato fits his style well. There are no missteps on Demarkation, but each time I listen to it, I get the greater impression that I’m listening to a series of variations on a theme than a collection of standalone songs; only the aforementioned AOR cheese “Eyes to the Sky”. The three parts of “I Am A Feeling” most directly build around the same theme, but I get the feeling that Mr. Opium Denn didn’t stop there when it came to milking a handful of musical textures to their natural conclusions.

Demarkation is supposedly the first part of a trilogy. While I’m not in love with what Opium Denn have done here, there are definitely signs of brilliance in the framework here, and there’s no doubt that good things are in store for when this opening trilogy gets going. Opium Denn is tame and soft by progressive rock standards, and probably a shade too dated to comfortably fit any other scene, but the way it’s presented is probably worth the price of admission by itself.

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