When Opeth came along, midway through the 1990s, the Swedish death metal scene was arguably enjoying the height of public awareness, as were original champions of the sound like Entombed, Unleashed, Tiamat and Dismember (from the capital of Stockholm), In Flames, Dark Tranquillity and At the Gates (from Gothenburg), Grave, Edge of Sanity and …well you get the picture.

However, those who had followed Sweden’s unlikely rise to global death metal prominence over the decade’s first half knew constant change and evolution were needed to ensure its ongoing vitality, and this is precisely what Opeth delivered -- via a bold new sound prizing extreme disparities of heavy and light, often drawn-out to eight-to-ten-minute songs, or “movements” as band leader Mikael Akerfeldt called them.

This proclivity for epic songwriting arose from Akerfeldt’s passion for ‘70s progressive rock, and took shape over Opeth’s first two LPs, 1995’s Orchid and ‘96’s Morningrise, with the help of like-minded producer Dan Swano (ex-Edge of Sanity), both hailed as groundbreaking efforts by the death metal intelligentsia.

But it took Swano’s departure and the band’s near-collapse prior to the recording of 1998’s My Arms Your Hearse for Opeth to realize they still had a lot to prove, to the world and to themselves. So it was that a solid lineup of Akerfeldt (vocals and guitar), Peter Lindgren (guitar), Martin Mendez (bass) and Martin Lopez (drums) meshed their talents to perfection on a string of landmark albums between 1999’s Still Life and 2005’s Ghost Reveries.

Come time for the latter LP, Opeth had gained true international recognition, well beyond the heavy metal, never mind the even more limited death metal marketplace. But, rather than encouraging Akerfeldt to sit on his laurels, this success challenged him to keep on maturing his band’s music, and in recent years Opeth has traveled the brave new world of genuine progressive rock, where heavy metal appears merely in the details.

These efforts, too, have gained far more supporters than detractors, so we can only wonder what lies ahead for Opeth, because there’s no doubt they will continue to evolve. So join us in reviewing the band’s evolution thus far as you click through this gallery of Opeth album rankings!

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