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Album Review: TBA

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Album Review: Opeth - Heritage

I have to confess, I’ve never quite understood ’s modus operandi. Blink once and they’re soothing the soul with softly-spoken words placed carefully over dark, yet harrowing, prog rock; blink twice and they’re hacking your face off and dripping pure death into the bloodied holes with the most vitriolic, post-apocalyptic, black metal. To qualify as a bona fide fan, I suppose you really have to dig both sides of the band’s twisted dual personality. Lord knows I’ve tried to love the heavier stuff but my heart’s just not in it – I’m a Damnation man through and through. I’ve listened to album after album and gone to show after show but I always end up either skipping tracks or ducking for cover whilst others go apeshit in front of me. A part of me strongly suspects there are others who share my theory but I doubt, just as much, that they are willing to support it. Well, if you are out there, folks, this one’s for you.

Heritage is a milestone for , their tenth album, and this time there are no death growls. They have clearly marked the occasion with a change of direction that they discovered whilst writing for their last album, Watershed. It’s something haven’t tried since Damnation, oddly enough; yet even that album’s clean lines can’t compare to the streaky rhythms and ethereal hues that this one carries. In that sense, it’s more likely to occasionally draw comparison to the bleak wasteland portrayed in Still Life. It’s intensely gothic in places, and startlingly barren in others, but it always seems to, like much of ’s proggier material, peel back the layers and bury itself deep into your brain.

Producing the album himself, frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt has stripped back the guitars and vocals, leaving an opaque imprint that will both fascinate and challenge all-comers. From its title-track with solemnly authoritative piano underpinned by double-bass to “Marrow Of The Earth” with plucked acoustic and electric guitars intertwined in a balletic play of notes, know that Heritage is in the raw. Or, to put it all a little more poetically, from a silent classroom to a mere breath on a mirror.

It comes as absolutely no surprise to see Steven Wilson’s involvement either – you can almost sense the man’s energy and hear his influence steaming off of some of these tracks. In places, it’s easy to mistake Åkerfeldt’s vocal for Wilson’s own croon, whilst the opening crawling guitar riff and layered background fills within “I Feel The Dark” would nestle quite happily next to quite a few of ’s tracks – only when hammer in those gloom-stained changes of key, do they stamp their own distinctive personality on this.

There’s plenty of fuzzed guitar and warbling keys in the tight twists and loops of “The Devil’s Orchard”, all of which leads you, tellingly, to the hooked climbing chorus and and its delayed tolling follow-through. Then, those rumbling rhythms are back again for the head-nodding vibe of “Slither”. Both drag forth echoes of , and , whilst the thick guitar tone at the end of “Häxprocess” recalls Gary Moore. Of course, the jazz flute hiding in the loosely-structured “Famine” could only tweak memories of in their prime. Perhaps it is these moments that give the album its aged feel, almost like it had been written some time ago and stored like a fine wine to mature, but it is a thought that’s solidified by the album’s perfectly-weighted title. Maybe it has after all, especially since Åkerfeldt commented in his press release that he’d been wanting to write “an album like this since I was 19″. I can see him now, as an eager young man, ferreting away ideas.

There are brief moments where the jazzy elements begin to overwhelm the quietly brooding core, during “Häxprocess” and again for “Famine”, but they are mere branches within the flow of Heritage‘s crystal-clear waters. Don’t dwell on this thought because familiarity will undoubtedly be followed by acceptance. Instead, let me leave you with a description of the magnificent “Folklore”. It’s a track that dives at you in waves; rises to glorious peaks on galloping basslines and sinks into hardier sections which twinkle and glimmer like candlelight in a vast, lavishly-decorated Viking hall. It leaves me smiling blissfully every time. Each track paints a picture, tells a story, and that’s all you can ask for in an album. I don’t think it’s got the kind of overwhelmingly addictive personality that Damnation exuded, but I do think for all those lovers of ’s lighter side, they have provided some classy food for the soul and that means they can rest easy. Heritage is already a part of the furniture; something to cherish for a long time to come.

Also online @ The NewReview (with samples) = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/opeth-heritage

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