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01/10/2011 Opeth - Heritage Review 06/06/2008 OPETH - Watershed Now Available!
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Opeth - News
|Opeth - Heritage Review|
|01-10-2011 08:12 | 0 comment(s)|
| It's a rare thing to witness a band practically hitting the ground running with their debut album, and Opeth did just that back in 1995 with the landmark debut Orchid. It was one of those albums that arrived feeling fully formed, the band establishing its own identity within seconds, instantly setting themselves apart from the rest of the metal world. With a band like Opeth, though, the phrase "fully realized" can never truly be used to describe one of their "observances", because over the last 17 years the band's music has been in a constant state of flux. Here's one progressive metal band that remembers the root word "progress": as singer/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt has grown up, so too has his music matured over the years
If you spin Opeth's now formidable back catalog starting with Orchid and continuing chronologically through 2008's Watershed, the maturation of their sound tends to be very subtle, more like a gradual rise rather than a series of peaks and valleys. There have been a good number of creative breakthroughs that have proven especially crucial - "Demon of the Fall", "Black Rose Immortal", "White Cluster", 2000's Blackwater Park, "Deliverance" – but aside from 2003's mellow Damnation album, all have still sounded pretty much exactly what audiences have expected Opeth to sound like. Starting with 2005's Ghost Reveries, however, you could sense the music changing a little more obviously, musical influences broadening, songs more streamlined, the metal side of the band's oeuvre starting to be downplayed at times. Looking at Åkerfeldt's body of work with the perspective of hindsight, one can sense his music headed somewhere, but exactly where that would be is anyone's guess.
Opeth's tenth album completely differs from the previous eight in that in this case we have something truly audacious. In fact, it's the boldest move by the band since Orchid, albeit in a vastly different way. Buried underneath all of the band's death and doom metal riffs and growls has lurked a massive progressive rock influence, and Ghost Reveries and Watershed saw the prog starting to creep to the surface more and more. What Heritage does, though, is bring the prog rock into in full bloom on an Opeth album for the first time. So much so, that it's debatable whether it's actually "metal" at all. That said, while Heritage marks a significant turning point in the band's career, its progression still feels natural; for all the changes it still sounds very much like an Opeth record.
The way the album eases listeners into this reinvention is clever. The title track kicks things off with a surprising turn towards jazz piano, its melancholy strains hardly foreign to longtime listeners, which then leads into the Rush-like, stop-start riff of "The Devil's Orchard". Centered on Åkerfeldt's spiraling riff and Martin Axenrot's fluid fills, the song's slight use of heavy riffs midway through helps maintain that sense of familiarity, but as it turns out that's pretty much as "extreme metal" as the record gets. Actually, the key clue as to Heritage's direction is in Åkerfeldt's vocals. Not only has he done away with harsh growls for the first time since Damnation but he is singing with more range and confidence than ever before, as if suddenly realizing that taking more risks from a vocal standpoint could yield exciting results. Besides, to do death growls on this record would be utterly pointless.
In fact, the most immediately catchy songs on the album, namely "The Devil's Orchard" and the shameless but dead-on Ritchie Blackmore riffery of "Slither", are also the least interesting, as the rest of Heritage throws the listener for loop after loop by its sheer subtlety alone. It's an extraordinarily low-key affair, even for Opeth. It takes its time, and multiple listens are required for the entire record to sink in. "Nepenthe" shifts from a gorgeous, Moody Blues-derived opening section to a jazz fusion jam led by a contagious little keyboard riff, atop which Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson shift into full-on King Crimson mode during the solos. The bizarre "I Feel the Dark" feels like two three minute songs rather than one six minute one, that is until the second half comes full circle with a reprise of the acoustic intro. Acoustic piece "Haxprocess" (Swedish for "witch trial", so says Google Translator) see Åkerfeldt and Opeth broadening their sound even more by remaining silent, letting sustained notes express the mood rather than prog rock guitar noodling. The song is so toned-down that it's easy to miss the odd little touches the band tosses in.
That said, the best moments on Heritage are when the band goes fully into prog rock nerd mode. "Famine" revisits the labyrinthine song structure we've come to know so well from the band, but this time around there's far more intimacy and warmth, highlighted by the lovely opening piano/vocal melody and lumbering, Deep Purple-esque jam during the latter half. "Folklore", meanwhile, brings the album to a gentle climax, segueing form a pastoral, flute-tinged acoustic arrangement to the best riff on the record, led actually by Martin Mendez, whose bass solo accentuates and ultimately overwhelms a haunting piano piece, kicking into a controlled yet still bracing groove, the fastest on the album. All the while the band holds back, exhibiting just enough restraint to maintain a sense of tension as the song cruises to its graceful fade-out.
If there's one thing that's missed here, it's the prominence of the keyboards. They're still ever present, playing a vital role, adding much-needed depth to the music, but Per Wiberg's contributions are minimal at best. Interestingly, it's his replacement, Joakim Svalberg, who plays the piano on the title track, the one song where keyboards play the biggest role. However, what Heritage is most about is the musical evolution of Åkerfeldt, and on this fascinating, strange, and at times befuddling record we hear him discovering new, fertile musical territory, and you get the sense that this will open up a huge new realm of possibilities for Opeth. Forget the last album; this could very well wind up being Opeth's true watershed moment.
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