Heritage is a milestone for Opeth, 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 Opeth 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 Opeth’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 Opeth 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 Porcupine Tree’s tracks – only when Opeth 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 Deep Purple, Yes and Led Zeppelin, 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 Jethro Tull 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 Opeth 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 Opeth’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.
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