“We are rebelling against Metal” - Mikael Akerfeldt
Opeth formed in 1990 purely as an extreme death metal band but in more recent years have created a unique name for themselves, infusing the likes of extreme metal with progressive rock and folk influences. This has made Opeth a widely talked about and critically acclaimed band and you would be credible to mention them in both extreme metal and progressive rock circles.
'Blackwater Park' (2001) is considered the bands magnum opus and perfectly blends the extreme metal and progressive sounds with a stark intensity and atmosphere, which the band has been known for. Since 2001, Opeth have leaned more towards a progressive sound, which is most evident on albums such as 'Ghost Reveries' (2005) and their previous album 'Watershed' (2008). Whether Opeth have been a metal band or a progressive band has been debatable for a while now, yet for the most part they get a wider coverage from the metal side of the music industry, including support from popular metal magazines such as Terrorizer.
‘Heritage’ the band’s tenth release and latest album is the start of a controversial new venture and sound for the band, in which they have opted to do a pure progressive rock album. To start with, the most obvious comparison to previous albums is that there are no metal growls on this album. Part of Opeth’s distinctive trademark sound was always utilising the dynamic shift between metal growls and clean vocals, but here along with the extreme metal side of their sound are all stripped away. The heaviest this album gets is more towards the definition of rock music, akin to such bands as Deep Purple or The Scorpions, which is most notable on songs such as ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ and ‘Slither’.
The rest of the album is nothing other than pure progressive rock bliss, which most metal fans will find hard to swallow, but most songs still keep that distinctive darker edge that Opeth fans will be most familiar with. Not only is ‘Heritage’ distinctive in dropping the bands extreme metal side, it also introduces a very strong Jazz influence. This is most evident within the musicianship, being the focal point of this album but also in such highlights as the jazz-flute instrumentation on the track ‘Famine’. This album may have opted for progressive rock over metal but it still has a brutal intensity, except not in loudness but in the opposite dynamic, in which there are sections where you could almost hear a pin drop in the arrangements.
Most metal bands today that take influences from the genre of progressive rock might take it from bands such as Pink Floyd, King Crimson or Rush but with this album Mikael Akerfeldt takes influences from more obscure progressive rock bands, which have mostly been forgotten or in some cases unknown. It is here on ‘Heritage’ that Opeth show you these lost and forgotten sounds and deliver something very fresh and original to your ears.
The way Opeth recorded this album is also distinctive from previous albums, as for this album the band rejected modern recording techniques and instead opted to record everything in a live manner. This album therefore really captures the magic of a band playing live together in a room and is very refreshing compared to other modern bands, which utilise a more 'overdubbed’ sound. In this way ‘Heritage’ has a retro but classic production which perfectly fits the progressive rock style and although rough around the edges due to the live technique, it’s imperfections make the album sound more human.
To summarize, Opeth have created the beginnings of a new sound for themselves that some fans will love and absorb for days but that others will immediately hate. Some bands may create left turns in their sound for the sake of doing so or to be controversial but for Opeth it feels as if they are meant to be here at this point in time. To Opeth it appears that on the most part it is a sigh of relief to them that they can finally leave their metal roots behind.
Whether you are new to Opeth or have listened to them before, this album will take at least 3-4 listens before it fully settles with you. This isn’t an album to be taken at face value and regarding the sound and lyrics as a complete picture, is a very personal album to dig deep within. It’s such a shame that many people having listened to this album already have instantly dismissed it, that possibly due to the many distractions of the modern world, attention spans might not be enough for some people to fully appreciate this album.
‘Heritage’ could well be Opeth’s most important release to date but it could also mean instant suicide to their hardcore metal fans.
Opeth prove that they are one of the bravest bands around.
'Heritage' is out now!