OPETH — Pale Communion (review)

OPETH — Pale Communion album cover Album · 2014 · Metal Related Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
"Pale Communion" is the 11th full-length studio album by Swedish progressive rock/metal act Opeth. The album was released through Roadrunner Records in August 2014. There´s been a lineup change since "Heritage (2011)" as keyboard player Per Wiberg has been replaced by Joakim Svalberg.

With "Heritage (2011)", Opeth more or less took a left turn fully embracing a 70s influenced progressive hard rock sound and leaving their death metal past behind. They did a similar thing on "Damnation (2003)" but returned to their trademark progressive death metal sound on the next couple of albums. This time around they seem to mean business though and as "Pale Communion" is now their second album in a row which features a 70s influenced progressive hard rock sound, we can probably safely assume that the band´s death metal days are now behind them and that a new chapter in the band´s history began with "Heritage (2011)".

So the music on "Pale Communion" is a continuation of the progressive hard rock sound on "Heritage (2011)" and as such has little to do with metal although there are some hard rocking riffing on the album and references to artists like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, and Atomic Rooster are valid enough (also because of the dominant use of organ). But there are references to a lot of 70s artists and musical styles on the album. Vocalist/guitarist/main composer Mikael Åkerfeldt are known for his broad tastes in music and you´ll hear elements from both hard rock, symphonic progressive rock (the sections with mellotron and the sections with orchestration are beautiful), folk rock, and even a whiff of jazz rock on "Pale Communion", which is ultimately a pretty varied album.

The description above can more or less also be applied to "Heritage (2011)", but "Pale Communion" is not a sequal clone of that album, as the band have opted for a more structured and melodic sound on this album compared to the more messy sounding "Heritage (2011)". "Heritage (2011)" often sounded like Mikael Åkerfeldt had 10.000 ideas and was hellbent to cram them all on the album. That ultimately made that album quite an adventurous ride but at the same time not the most memorable or well composed one. With "Pale Communion" it seems that Åkerfeldt has cut a bit more to the bone and focused on the actual compositions and the longivity of the melody lines. As a result "Pale Communion" is instantly memorable and quite a bit more accessible compared to it´s predecessor.

"Pale Communion" is produced by Mikael Åkerfeldt and mixed by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) and not surprisingly the album is graced with a warm, detailed, and organic sounding production, which suits the music perfectly. The musicianship are as always of high class. The instrumental performances are organic and tight and Mikael Åkerfeldt´s vocals are distinct sounding and delivered with conviction. The use of choirs and backing- and harmony vocals on many tracks are great assets to the music too.

The album features an overall great flow and all tracks are memorable after only a few listens although complex enough to ensure longivity. It´s not easy to pick standout tracks on an album where all tracks are equally great, but I´d like to mention the closing trio of tracks, "River", "Voice of Treason", and "Faith in Others", as some of the highlights. The former because of the surprising shift in atmosphere (here is a track where several different sounding compositional ideas work well together) and the two latter (which seque into each other to form a sort of mini suite) for their intriguing emotional impact and use of orchestration. But then again I could have mentioned any track off "Pale Communion" and call it a highlight.

While "Pale Communion" certainly digs deep into the 70s progressive rock and hard rock scene for inspiration and does feature a retro sound, it doesn´t feel as forced as it´s predecessor did. It´s more fresh sounding, more musical, and overall just a better and more memorable release. I was beginning to wonder where Opeth were heading with "Heritage (2011)", but with "Pale Communion" I think they are back on the right track. A track that brings promises of even greater future output in this style. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.
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Unitron wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Nice review, even though I enjoy 'Heritage' much more, it's nice to see some different opinions after a few more negative reviews.
UMUR wrote:
more than 2 years ago
Thanks Pekka, this one suprised me in a positive way after I was somewhat disappointed by "Heritage".
Pekka wrote:
more than 2 years ago
A very nice review, I agree with practically everything said here.


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