I feel a strong desire to address the issue of Opeth’s new release, “Heritage”. This has been a pretty controversial album this year, and having just witnessed their live ritual last night, I’m going to touch on this.
The seed from which this controversy sprouts deals with the direction of the band in the studio and with their live show. Abandoning all death metal components Opeth has been shrouded by for the past 21 years now, “Heritage” is the second album written- that is, without harsh vocals or extreme speed in his music. The first was 2003’s “Damnation”, which drew largely off of 70’s progressive rock and the bands softer side, which wasn’t a brand new concept becausee they did have quite a few gentler ballads and softies on their earlier catalogue. Almost every album has at least one of these songs.
What keeps this album from being “Damnation II” is the fact that it isn’t drawing from prog and psychadelic rock; rather, it is emulating those sounds. Instead of letting it influence the music, it has become a living breathing component, flowing fluidly through the capilaries of the album as a whole. It’s strange, it’s experimental, it’s soft, it’s heavy and it is truly dark. Beneath the colorful, bright, psychadelic skin broods something dark and sinister, like an Alice and Wonderland that has a twisted core.
With all of its ingenuities and inventions, this auditory darkness is also nothing like what Opeth has ever done, which is the main source of the aforementioned controversy. They have punctured a boundary that they have long pushed and shoved against, and through the wound has gushed in gallons of creativity in the form of acid tripping, technically proficient yet ever mutating extreme psychedelic metal. Which is exactly why Encyclopedia- Metallium may list their current sound as prog rock, but I am officially declaring them extreme psychadelic metal. This is a seldomly traversed level of music in such a pure form. Most bands encorporating, or even largely composed of psychadelic music, almost always have a backbone carved from doom (such as Electric Wizard) or black metal (such as Nachtmystium), but raw psychadelia is something I personally have yet to find in metal, before now.
So, should we ultimately be upset with Mr. Akerfeldt for taking away that which made his vision such a unique band to begin with? Or should we celebrate his courage to risk losing a large portion of his 21 year developing fanbase for the sake of pursuing what he believes to be an extreme yet necessary change into unventured territory to avoid stagnation?
The answer is that Opeth has written a page in the metal handbook that others should follow suit on. This is the kind of progression and development that we should come to expect from our favorite bands; this is the work of true musicians. The production, the lack of heaviness, and surplus of mind bending trippiness are all changes that I welcome. This release has the absolute warmest production I have ever heard from a metal band; the drums sound incredibly natural. If you want clean and oiled studio work with pro tools, killer heavy riffing accompanied by blazing double bass, and strong and soaring melodic leads with the roar of a tortured hellbeast commanding you to offer up your soul in your death metal, listen to Orchid, Morningrise, Deliverence, Blackwater Park, or any of the 4 other albums of extreme prog death in their back catalogue. You seriously have 8 albums to choose from. If that is too much creativity and you need more monotonous and pointless music, I suggest you go pick up something by Chelsea Grin, Oceano, or any other of the trillions of cloned deathcore bands pissing all over the metal legacy so many true bands have worked to erect.
I believe Opeth is leading a flag across the land of Heavy Metal Music. Some will follow them with their unorthodox ideas, proclaiming them musical genius’s who set trends and burn down stereotypes of metal. Others will pelt them with rocks and garbage, telling them to go back to doing what they’re best at and write true swedish death metal. This division is really unfortunate, as I believe that Opeth should be leading the charge, I believe that what they is doing is true boundless creativity, dressed in the spikey, abrasive clothing and attitude of a metalhead, and that others should follow.
For now, this has also affected the live shows. I saw Opeth in 2008 with High on Fire at the House of Blues in Cleveland, and I will never forget it. They had just released Watershed, and the atmosphere was imposing, dark and heavy. The performance was unparalleled and composed of almost 80% death metal songs. It is one of the top 15 live shows I have attended. However, last night the vibe was completely different- still dark and heavy, but less sinister, more foreboding. One of the aspects I love dearly about this band is their ability to paint a very different image with each album, but you can still see the very specific marks of their own personal brush stroke, and “Heritage” has that exact same quality, as did the live show. Mikael still said really stupid, yet entertaining shit between each song. The performance was very intense, as was the light show, but the set was unlike anything I had witnessed them do. Soft, clean sung and prog rock songs were the main focus of the show- many were from “Heritage”. Songs were played from the beginning of the band’s career up until the album released just two weeks ago, and when displayed next to one another sounded natural. Which is why “Heritage” should be a welcome addition to the treasured catalogue of Opeth albums, because it still sounds exactly like they always have, in a sense.
I’m getting this on vinyl.
PS: Check out my review of Wolves in the Throne Room’s new album and my first entry to the “Buried by Time and Dust” page.