(NCS writer BadWolf reviews the controversial new album from Opeth.)
The mark of a good album is that I cannot stop listening to it, the mark of a great album is that it makes me think, and Heritage is spinning my gears the way Opeth first did six years ago. When I first heard Ghost Reveries, it opened up my eyes to the possibilities of metal to be artful, emotional. Heritage is opening my eyes to the possibilities of abandoning metal (and genre, period) entirely. This is in many ways a massive departure, but a necessary one.
But first let’s talk about that adjective “progressive.” Opeth are prog, but not progressive; after all, how can Mikael Åkerfeldt progress when he’s effectively re-written 1999’s Still Life album 4 times in a decade to varying results? For ten years Opeth has only explored Chiarascuro (admittedly, an amazing concept). They have already mastered the juxtaposition between light and dark in a metal context to the point where they’re being imitated constantly (with almost no success). Heritage needed to happen—Opeth needed to expand their palate or commit to rereleasing lesser permutations of Blackwater Park forever. Here’s a very NCS metaphor: the sex was getting boring. (more after the jump . . .)
Heritage is not progressive either. In its own way it is as neo-traditional and bound by formalism as the current wave of throwback death metal it is so obsessed with escaping! Let’s be straight: Opeth is prog, Deathspell Omega is P.R.O.G.R.E.S.S.I.V.E. Heritage’s only experiment is to see how many non-metal styles of music it can reference in the course of an hour; “Slither” cruises with four minutes of Primus-esque funk; “Feel the Dark” begins with an eerie similarity to Heart’s “Crazy on You”; “Haxprocess” blends creepy space rock with near-reggae; the titular instrumental sounds like the main theme from Oldboy, and “Famine” dabbles in so many disparate sounds that it barely works as a song. I don’t love this new side of my old lover (yet), but when the sex is good, it is better than it ever was.
Heritage lives in daylight, with shorter but less poppy songs—darker lyrics, brighter feel. Most importantly, where its predecessors felt like a one-man project, Åkerfeldt accompanied, Heritage feels like a full band. For the first time perhaps ever, Åkerfeldt’s companions shine as brightly as he does. Martin Mendez, in particular, cuts loose on his bass like never before. Martin Axenrot drums with restraint, but has a real knack for nuanced cymbal fills. Per Wiberg, now ex-keyboardist, used his instruments to their fullest—I’m sad he left.
When Åkerfeldt strips away all trappings of extreme metal his songs get shorter. And better. “Slither,” “The Devil’s Orchard,” and “Folklore” are all amazing pieces of work. “I Feel the Dark” and “The Lines in My Hand” in particular stand out as great pieces of music—it’s no coincidence that they seem the least occupied in playing to a specific genre tag.
Heritage is seductive, like a very difficult puzzle that wants to be solved. Even if the resolution itself may not be satisfying, the solving itself has value. So to those of you crying foul: this is metal, if not in sound, then in attitude. It does not exist in a comfort zone, and it is not meant to satisfy. It is meant to challenge. Our refusal to take that challenge on is our own fault. Heritage, more than any Opeth record, pushes the listener to take it on its own individual merits—that is its great value.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Heritage is out now on Roadrunner Records. Here are the five tracks that BadWolf highlighted in the review as especially noteworthy pieces of music:
“Slither”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/04-Slither.mp3|titles=Opeth – Slither]
“The Devil’s Orchard”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/02-The-Devils-Orchard.mp3|titles=Opeth – The Devil’s Orchard]
“Folklore”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/09-Folklore.mp3|titles=Opeth – Folklore]
“I Feel the Dark”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/03-I-Feel-The-Dark.mp3|titles=Opeth – I Feel The Dark]
“The Lines in My Hand”[audio:https://www.nocleansinging.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/08-The-Lines-In-My-Hand.mp3|titles=Opeth – The Lines In My Hand]
Wait – so your first introduction to Opeth was Ghost Reveries? No wonder you like Heritage.
Just because they stripped away the “extreme” elements, doesn’t mean that the beautiful and artistic values of the music can shine through, it just means that it’s easier for you to process them. If you really take the time, you cannot honestly say that this album comes anywhere near Deliverance or Black Water Park. Still Life and My Arms Your Hearse are good, but not as good, but they’re BOTH still better than Heritage.
And let’s get one thing straight, I don’t hate Heritage because it’s not “BRAAWWW screamy death metal”. I hate Heritage because it’s a BAD album. It’s meandering and it lacks focus. It’s trying to be Jethro Tull with elements of Rush and Beatles, without being as good as any of those previously mentioned bands.
I disagree with your review. Here’s why; this feels more like Mikael Akerfeldt’s solo project than an Opeth album. The performance of the musicians has been a lot better than on previous albums by far, and Mikael has indeed expressed an interest in going the prog rock route but obviously, he did so by taking the crew and ship down with him rather than going it alone. Now the thing is that i listen predominantly to death metal but i LOVE old school prog rock; I can’t get enough of bands like King Crimson, Deep Purple and the like, and additionally the clean vocals were not at all a problem for me as Damnation is in fact my favourite Opeth album. The problem with this album i feel, is that it is an imitation of a time that is past masquerading as a new offering.
In my opinion, this album is executed very well but is not a full package especially because Mikael decided to write for himself rather than for Opeth. And if i recall reading an interview he did in regards to this album, he said as much by saying that Per was “fired because he didn’t want to play ‘my music’ any more”
*i meant to say that the musicianship from the other musicians has been better on previous albums.
I’m all for musicians wanting to challenge themselves (and their listeners) and grow as artists…but that’s why the gods invented the “side project”. Imagine if Karl Sanders had released “Saurian Meditation” as a Nile album.
See, but Akerfeldt has a prog rock side project with Dan Swano, but doesn’t do anything with it. Which is sad, because this track is better than the stuff off Heritage, but I’m guessing that’s because Swano is involved.
Haha, you said in a few words what i tried in more Trollfiend! Good on you!
In light of the discussion in the above comments, this seemed pertinent — posted on Opeth’s Facebook page this morning:
“The long awaited collaboration between Mikael Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) is finally being completed. The project goes under the name of ‘Storm Corrosion’ and will have a self-titled record out in April 2012 through a yet unnamed label. This album could be seen as the final part in the odd trilogy of records completed by “Heritage” and Steven Wilson’s brand new solo album “Grace for Drowning”.”
This could be really cool. I find that Akerfeldt shines best when he is with other people (see: Ihsahn, Sörskogen)
He was also one of the best features on Ayreon’s The Human Equation.
I haven’t heard the whole album yet, but I like what I’ve heard so far. It’s sounds like it’s still recognizable as Opeth, with the prog turned all the way up.
I think one of Opeth’s problems is that they have three different audiences: the prog fans, the death metal fans and those who appreciate both sides of Opeth’s music. With Heritage so deeply entrenched in prog, it’s bound to piss off a lot of fans on the other side, as well as some from the middle ground. For all we know, the next album could go in the other direction and piss off Opeth’s prog fans.
I think that succinctly puts the finger on the issue with this album.
With only a moderate amount of sarcasm, I’m gonna say Opeth is missing a marketing opportunity here. They could record the same album twice, once with maximum prog and once with the heavy. Release them together and give their fans the opportunity to choose which they’d prefer. Of course that would piss off the fans who like both sides, as they’d then have to buy two albums instead of just one.
Great review Islander. Really digging the album. Marrow of the Earth and Nepenthe are my favs.
I’ll accept the thanks even though BadWolf wrote the review. 🙂