A stunning tribute to the 70s.
No death metal growls! Okay, now we have got that out of the way we can commence (I loathe the over abundance of death growls in metal). Allow me to get personal for a moment. I love this album for the same reason I loved 'Damnation'. Akerfeldt has a great voice and he uses it well on this album, and the band are inventive virtuoso musicians and they are incredible on this release. I discovered Opeth on 'Damnation' and adored every part of it. I was completely dismayed after this that 'Deliverance', my next Opeth album, was infested with death metal growling. I had discarded that style years ago, it simply is not for me. I don't mind that others like it, I used to also, but I can't stand it now. So I decided that Opeth was not for me. Opeth get rave reviews such as the incredibly diverse Watershed and Ghost Reveries that I had to dip my toes in again and I was actually quite pleased with what I heard, thinking perhaps Opeth is for me, I just have to skip the tracks that don't appeal. Not ideal I know but they are excellent musos and deserve recognition. Anyway, I read the reviews for the new album and all of them said the same thing ' no death metal vocals. Okay, here we go. I had no idea I was going to encounter a throwback to the 70s! Here are the tracks.
1. Heritage and 2. The Devil's Orchard - After a quiet melancholy piano intro accompanied by bassist Martin Mendez.
Track 2 seamlessly begins with the gorgeous Hammond sound of the 70s. Then we are treated to a King Crimson guitar polyrhythm ' The Black Sabbath dark lyrics and atmosphere is unmistakeable.
3 I Feel the Dark - An acoustic intro, a steady beat, inspired singing, spacey effects, time sig changes, lots of beautiful flute.
4 Slither - A heavier sound but still no metal distortion. More classic Sabbath guitar and keyboards, awesome riffs, a Hammond organ shimmering, an excellent lead break and some minimalist acoustic.
5 Nepenthe - Begins with soft acoustics, and weird jazz improvised drums, very slow pace and key pads. Akerfeldt is great with clean vocals sounding like like Camel. There are Psych prog embellishments, and reflective lyrics; 'in my darkest hour, yes, trust me with the light'. A King Crimson style guitar riff locks in, with soaring lead guitar, then more jazz drums. This is a real oddity, but quite entrancing, then a screaming killer lead solo breaks in, but suddenly drops out for an ambient passage of keys and guitar with those brush drums. Vocals return, singing, 'She would haunt my dreams,' and after a verse it's over. Opeth are a new animal here, and I love it. It's not prog metal, its eclectic mixed with jazz fusion.
6 Haxprocess - This incredible track features some very strange time sig that almost feels improvised, and thee is a very strong dark atmosphere. Akerfeldt is extremely quiet, and sounds like the early 70s. Ambient effects of acoustic and dark sustained key pads create a bleak feeling of despair. Finally a rhythmic guitar begins and some Gothic lyrics with surreal imagery focussing on 'one eternal winter' and 'one forgotten season, secrets in the mire, moon is riding high, save your children, drenched in poverty, tracks in the snow,' The guitar solo is completely devoid of any rhythm, and all other instruments drop out. There is beauty in the playing, and I am in awe of how much this sounds like Latimer or Hackett. The sound of children's playful voices is heard and later a haunting piano in the distance. The atmosphere is uninviting but very Opeth.
7 Famine - This is a long song at over 8 minutes beginning with a Jethro Tull flute, strange crying effects, a low drone and then African tom tom drums. Sad vocals and lyrics sing slowly over a lonely piano, 'I can't see your face and I can't breathe your air, so I wonder why I get caught inside when I hear your name.' Immediately a Fripp like guitar chimes in, and then blasts of drums and a massive Hammond crashing on the chords, sheer prog bliss. Akerfeldt's voice rises in pitch and it is a stand out moment on this album. The musicianship is unrepentant of the 70s sound, it seems it is designed to pay tribute to those classic 70s prog bands. The lyrics are even as weird as the 70s psych prog, 'Into the fire of my youth comes the devil again, when you feel your way, feel your way'. The song gets surreal and detours into new time sig territory, with very sporadic metrical patterns and crazy freakout Hammond and flute. There is a dissonant jazz feel and a bizarre riff that is impossible to pin down at first but it settles into an ethereal warbling flute over acoustic flourishes. The music draws me in as Akerfeldt sings with longing and pain, 'I would die, my heart was empty, come a ghost in perpetual void and neglect our reasons why'. Cue an echo and Ian Anderson must have channelled his presence as that is his flute. The droning organ caps off one of the best Opeth tracks, certainly the most experimental. The sepulchral laughing voice at the end is downright creepy and preternatural. How could you not be mesmirised by all this high strangeness? Opeth are going out on a limb and just taking too many risks but it actually works. Check this track out as it typifies the new Opeth approach.
8 The Lines in My Hand - This one returns to good old classic rock with cool riffs and spacey psych synthesizer. Akerfeldt sounds great on vocals and the verse is repeated over and over speaking about 'dying in the wake'. The acoustic breaks are well executed and there are so many various time changes and instrumental breaks to indulge in. The song changes mid way through with a kind of Camel style, as Akerfeldt sings 'the writing's on the wall'. I loved this track, and perhaps this would be the one to check out along with Famine to find out whether this album is really for you.
9 Folklore - Guitarist Fredrik Akesson presents a wonderful clean guitar for an intro, but it sounds great and the riff is missing a beat or two which is unsettling to the ears but very progressive for that reason. The vocals sound like the effect on Sabbath's Planet Caravan processed through an effects vocoder, very 70s, 'Hey you, will you, be true, when you can.' The shimmering Hammond waits around the corner and blasts now and then like an old friend. I like the melody that is consistently out of sync, if that makes sense. I like the part with the lyrics, 'lost control, call your name, left me home, pouring rain, in the sea, of guilt and shame, we just stay'. The music even feels uplifting for a change, and the guitar solo is excellent old classic rock style. It fades away like an old 70s vinyl album.
10 Marrow of the earth - The last one may be one of the highlights in terms of beautiful guitar playing for Opeth. It is a dominant acoustic feel throughout, and very mellow vibes are created so well, the finger work is excellent.
So now we have two Opeths - the heavy death metal Opeth such as on 'Deliverance', 'Still Life' and 'Ghost Reveries', and we have the other Opeth that is full blown progressive such as on 'Damnation' and now 'Heritage'. You will perhaps be a fan of one or the other, but not both so this will be a test for Opeth's fanbase and how they will incorporate these tracks with the likes of those on 'Ghost Reveries' is beyond me, but they will. There were always quiet proggy moments on Opeth albums but this is their most progressive album I would suggest. It actually goes to great lengths to be as progressive as eclectic and symphonic bands of the 70s and even reminds me of Pain of Salvation and Riverside and of course Porcupine Tree, as Steven Wilson helmed the mixing again. This will no doubt alienate the huge fan base, but Opeth were never going to remain in one genre, they never have and that is why they are so endearing. I for one am pleased with this new approach and hope they stick to it as they do it so well. This is my favourite Opeth album hands down, and I am an Opeth convert if they continue on this path.