19 September 2011
by Amit Sharma
If there was ever a band the saying ‘slow and steady wins the race’ could apply to, that band would be Opeth. The Swedish progressive metal titans have had a very natural growth over the course of their 21 years and by doing so have established one of the most loyal fanbases around.
With the upcoming release of their tenth studio album Heritage, Mikael Åkerfeldt will be testing this fanbase more than ever before – moving away from the heavier end of metal and into more 70’s prog territory. You’ve probably heard that this record will feature no scream vocals but if you think you already own this album (in the form of Damnation) think again…
The opening title track doesn’t give too much away, the melancholy tones of a free-time jazz piano is something you’d actually expect an Opeth record to start with. Even the introduction of a muted double bass doesn’t seem to represent the departure revealed in various interviews and press releases in the build up. This all changes within seconds of ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ which instantly stands out with its winding riffs and odd time signatures (even by Opeth standards). The guitar tone is noticeably cleaner with less gain, resulting in the band sounding much warmer overall. The keyboards are more prominent than usual and Heritage marks the furthest Opeth have ventured towards becoming a jazz-rock band.
Whilst the influences of Camel and Caravan were apparent on Damnation, that record was much slower in pace and elegantly simplistic. In contrast Heritage carries a more traditional Opeth feel in tempo and the riffs seem more mathematical than ever before. Songs like ‘I Feel The Dark’ showcase the doomier side of Opeth and with the added flavours of vintage prog, there are moments that feel more disjointed than ever before. Which is a compliment to a band that have vastly expanded in terms of creativity and taken the risk of veering away from their tried and tested formula. You wouldn’t normally associate Opeth with the guitar style of Jimi Hendrix yet the song ‘Nepenthe’ underscores Hendrixian chordal embellishments before heading in a fusion direction not far off Santana or Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s that crazy.
There is even a jazz flute on this record – and you could be forgiven for confusing the opening minute of ‘Famine’ with something off the Jethro Tull discography. The harsh vocal parts may no longer be there, nor the death metal blastbeats, but that nightmarish darkness is still very prominent through the use of intricate rhythms, atmospherics and dissonance.
Most Opeth fans familiar with their non-metal influences will understand and truly appreciate how groundbreaking this record is. After all, it is still distinctly Opeth and another fine specimen alongside their existing body of sublime work, making it a strong contender for Album Of The Year shortlists.There may be some fans that will struggle to cope without the brutality Opeth usually offer, but whichever way you feel: you have to hand it to a band that continue to evolve and push boundaries like no other.
Sounds like: Camel and Deep Purple smoking crack with Satan
Top tracks: The Devil’s Orchard, I Feel The Dark, Nepenthe
Guitar solo rating: Shred, blues and fusion – it’s all there
Opeth – Heritage tracklisting:
The Devil’s Orchard
I Feel The Dark
The Lines In My Hand
Marrow Of The Earth