When Opeth announced their new album this year, the sad and wounded Opeth fans from Heritage (Not me) suddenly felt excited because true Opeth fans react full of vigor every time a new Opeth record is announced. Me? Well to be honest, Opeth are a band that among a few other bands, make me go weak, and so I also wait anxiously for such news. The news had been circling around the internet for a while before a single called Cusp of Eternity was put forward and people had a taste of what to expect. Most of the fans reacted rather harshly when Heritage was released because of the genre shift that Opeth have recently incorporated into the tracks after Watershed was released and were expecting the Blackwater Park/Ghost Reveries Opeth. In return they got an Opeth that sounded more mature and progressive without luring into the heavy aspect. Even the album was labelled as Progressive Rock and Mikael himself in interviews told the band’s fans that we are now going in a mature direction and only true Opeth fans will embrace this fact. For some fans, including me, the Heritage record grew more as more listens were given to it and that is the case with most of contemporary music coming out, one listen is just not enough. People who are emotional usually start passing their verdict in the first listen and then realize how dumb they are to do that, without letting the tunes properly course their way through the blood stream.
With the announcement of Pale Communion, people once again were speculating Mikael being Master’s Apprentice and a Heir Apparent (reference to his growling tracks), but this record again for me is Progressive Rock. We’ll get to that part in the latter half of this write up. Being a very true and honest Progressive Metal fan, and being an Opeth fan since the creation of baked bread, I will keep my review straight up and my request to the fans reading this is to not be sad, or hate me for selling out the old school Opeth, because good music is something we all bind upon and metal is a genre that creates and makes families all over the world.
For readers who are not aware of Opeth, (Which is indeed sad, very very sad!!!), they are a band hailing from the metal capital of the world, Sweden (at least that’s how I label Sweden). The band was formed in 1990 and since then, has had drastic changes in the sound and style they follow, yet the main power house of the band has always been the lead singer and writer Mikael Akerfeldt, who by the way is a very good standup comedian if you have been on one of his gigs. Opeth’s musical style includes elements of progressive heavy metal mixed with complex and sweet sounding arrangements that revert back to the original genre with grace. Over the period of time, Opeth have denounced the faith of many emos and pop listeners who totally embraced this new religion called Metal, and the credit goes to them for reverting them. With records like Blackwater Park and duel album releases such as Damnation and Deliverance, Opeth offered their listeners a choice of touching their sweet spot in the form of clean sounding vocals or some pretty bad ass growls by Mikael Akerfledt followed by a group of musicians who really sounded super professional in the arrangements they do.
The current team of Martin Mendez, Frederick Akesson, Martin Axenrot, Joakin Svelberg and Mikael Akerfledt are now an experimenting group, announcing Pale Communion, which is set for release on the 26th of August 2014. Yet again Mikael Akerfeldt has produced this album, and with the help from his ever reliable best friend Steven Wilson, (If you don’t know about Steven Wilson, then I am sorry, you should go away now. Please!!!). Steven Wilson has helped Opeth previously and Miakel Akerfeldt also collaborated with him producing Storm Corrosion. Opeth still is using Roadrunner Records as their label. The album has 8 tracks of decent length; none of the tracks are the marathon tracks they are usually associated with in the past.
The album commences its journey with a track called Eternal Rains Will Come. Esoteric sounding notes followed by clean drums and the characteristic Opeth organ in the background follows the intro before everything comes to a halt and you will instantly realize that serene feeling you get from an Opeth track. The track is a progressive rock inauguration to the rest of the album with very vindictive bass notes and arrangement that follows flawlessly the very clean vocals from Mikael. The interlude for me announced another Opeth record that is ready for praise by the masses, soft keyboard notes letting the guitars come in and embrace the fusion of progressive rock heaven. At around last minute the track shifts to a little heavier side and the riff accompanying that part is a very classic eastern influence, injected for a prefect end with the track ending and fading into Cusp of Eternity, and I most certainly started to move my head on this track. Mikael’s characteristic vocals with a background continuous palm muted riff will stretch your inner metal demons. The last quarter has a very good solo by Akesson, I say Akesson because we all know the difference of playing between Mikael and Akesson, as they are very identifiable in the way they play the guitar. Listeners will clearly find way the album is played so that it stays within the paradigm that Opeth have tried to incorporate lately, might be some tease towards the heavy in this track but overall it is a big no.
Moon Above, Sun Below, is the only 10 min track of the album, sadly not a heavy track, but full of changes ranging from vocal shifts in scale and arrangements. You will find this track to have roots from some earlier work like Watershed and as far back as Blackwater Park. Remarkable drum work from Martin Axenrot, if you are listening the album through headphones, in the form of in track drum solos and guitar work. At half point the winds of music flow like a soft storm and you will hear Mikael whispering something, this for me is a very good part in the whole album as it has an eerie feeling in just the way it is played. This song has for me one of the best Opeth endings for a track in contemporary Opeth albums, feeling grandeur because Axe has a master role in playing those drum rolls and piano notes with Mikael sustaining a vocal note till the end.
Elysian Woes begins with an acoustic start really bringing the pace of the album down, Mikael’s vocals festooning the background riff, mixed with sweet sounding clean backing guitars. The track ensues in a manner like this for a while before shifting to a bit of Windowpane feel, the opening track from Damnation album. Goblin is an instrumental with lots of palm muted notes and non-conventional backing riffs and is a product of stringed instrumentation craftily interlaced with perfect drum parts and keyboards.
River is yet another mellow start, somewhat following a simple rock pattern. The music through this track gives a feeling of rapture and as it progresses, listeners will find an epic part where bass guitars, drums and lead collaborate to produce rock-jazz musical mastery, touching the realms of being heavy yet controlled and tamed like an animal. The resulting product is teasing you in your highest heavy expectations but staying behaved. The end of this can be defined as nothing but Opeth. Ringing bells and evil scaled playing marks the start of Treason, I don’t know the history behind naming this track, but it does feel as if someone has performed treason somewhere, and someone is playing this as a confirmation. String domination in the form of bass and keyboards make it even sinister in its own way. The whole track has an evil feel, and you will get double bass drums in a part with Mikael’s scale going high on vocals. As soon as it ends it fades out into Faith in Others, which is one of my favorite tracks from the album, because it is signature Opeth mellow. The vocals by Mikael here, after multiple listens, touch the heart. The pain in his voice, the melancholy, it seems as if the instruments know how to follow Mikael. The interlude with keyboards and a clean vocal part, alternating guitar riff and his humming throughout the middle of the track will make you close your eyes and appreciate the perfect end that has been designed for the listeners.
This Opeth track will have fans giving their own verdict, because not many fans are happy with Opeth having this transition into loving to play what they want to and creating what they want to. Just like Mikael explained after Heritage, he reckons that Opeth are a band without boundaries and he wanted to create music he wanted to hear and if the band is happy with it, it is an Opeth record. I will absolutely agree with this statement, because just like we can’t keep on having the same food again and again, we need a change, so does music. And if true music fans listen to this with attention, I think they will find how crafty and artistic this album is. Martin Axenrot has played an awesome drum throughout this album and I specifically listened to this album multiple times only to focus on the drums and drum fans if you do too, you will be amazed. Mendez is, as always, hitting those notes like a boss, and the new found relation between Akesson and Mikael in creating divergent Opeth riffs is screaming out throughout the album. Joakim Svalberg will not let you miss Per Wiberg, (we do miss him, don’t get me wring), and it is difficult to find a difference because of whoever Opeth signs, adapts exactly to the band in a way Mikael wants. Mikael’s vocals still make me close my eyes to praise his dexterity and Opeth have yet again showed the perfect example of being versatile. Have a listen for yourself, with an open mind, eulogize the music, and after listening to it multiple times, you will be hooked to this for the rest of the year I promise.