All judgments are made from our own perspective, and to that degree they are limited. There is no such thing as a universal perspective short of Peirce’s idea of the agreement of the universal community of inquirers over the infinite long run. Apart from that we only have our own opinion, to the degree it is more or less informed by those who have come before, and are contemporaneous to, us.
Not only would I feel safe in saying no one would argue the place of their first three albums in their canon, I would extend it to the history of early death metal. So much so that one could argue their third, My Arms Your Hearse, marks a defining point in both their own history and that of the genre. The raw genius of Orchid and Morningrise coalesce into full manhood in My Arms. One does not need to wait until “Demons of the Fall” to realize he is listening to a band that knows precisely how and when to flex their might. The attentive ear gets this at four minutes and fourteen seconds into “When”.
Yet it ends with a seeming anomaly. Even as amateur musicians we knew to open a set strong and end even stronger. So why do they close what is arguably one of their great, early albums with “Remember Tomorrow”? There is not a single track of their prior 24 (!) that remotely approach this sound. So much so that I cannot think of an instance—before or after this—in which Mikael Akerfeldt hits a falsetto note as high as “sky” at 1:53. Nothing about it fits.
Perhaps it points to something beyond. While they quickly established themselves as titans of early death metal they did so in a way that suggested a new direction, one simultaneously staked out in black metal by Ulver. Each band incorporated nuance, melody, harmony, sophistication and orchestration in a way unknown to their progenitors. Clearly there was something about “Remember Tomorrow” that they felt captured their maturity and power. Yet I would safely (for I guarantee no one would do this) readily give $100 to any Opeth fan who could name this as one of their authoritative, definitive tracks.
So could it be that, in the long run, despite all the objections of the purists, their trajectory was not as much of a surprise as the fundamentalists exasperatingly feel it be? Could it be that “Remember Tomorrow” leads quite logically to Sorceress?