(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]