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Let me make one thing clear, I am a huge fan of progressive music and encourage all bands to experiment with their sound. The trick about experimentation is that you risk alienating your fanbase, the very same group of people who have been buying your music all these years, but some bands (like Mastodon for example), have done a very admirable job of keeping their fan base intact while playing more rock based music. This album however, falls drastically short of expectations.
Now, Opeth like to think they make good progressive music, and for the most part they're very good at doing so, except that this album isn't good progressive music. I like the fact that there are no death metal vocals on this album and the singing is genuinely good, however, where is the music? Most of this album is completely pale, uncreative and sour. I went into this with a completely open mind, thinking that Opeth are actually exceptionally good songwriters, but this album threw me off guard.
Lets start with the guitars, possibly one of the few decent aspects of this album. Ok, there is very little distortion here which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, an essential aspect of playing good rock is that your guitar parts are somewhat catchy or form a large part of the music. Unfortunately here, the guitarwork is essentially as follows "Hey, we'll play some simple stuff, nothing catchy, everything will be relaxed and we'll have a few nice guitar solos here and there". That is really all there is to it, Opeth have managed to craft music that is great for the lounge, something you listen to while cooking or driving your car back home from work - but that's about it. Nothing here is really catchy or seems to be well thought out, it seems that Mikael went in trying to be everything against heavy metal - which is alright, but in turn you might want to have some nice riffs and not just lounge music. I like some of the guitar solos here, Opeth can definitely write those, but for the most part, this lays the foundation of the record, and they did a pathetic job.
Next, the most horrendous aspect of this record - the drums. Now, I never really liked Opeth's drummer, but this is some of the worst I've heard because they were mixed in pretty atrociously. The drums sound like they belong on a heavier record, the cymbals sound absolutely dreadful and very non progressive like. I am absolutely certain that 90% of other drummers would get this right, but the drumming just doesn't seem to fit this rather soft and relatively melodic record, they belong somewhere else. The snare almost completely drowns the music, making everything else difficult to listen to - abominable.
Now, the one positive from this thing are the vocals, which are actually elegantly done. Mikael is a fantastic vocalist, he can sing for any rock band on the face of the earth - and does a great job here. It is such a shame that the music he is singing to belongs to some PornHub channel rather than a rock band as famous and innovative as Opeth. Now, some songs are decent, I enjoyed "Haxprocess" for example, but for the most part I found myself paying little attention to everything else. Maybe Opeth have mellowed out - maybe all they want is something for 50 year old guys to listen to in the car, some nice background music. In that case, they have done a great job (keep in mind its an easy task), but for a rock band, this is very boring.
Oiginally published at http://suite101.com
So in a move that can’t have surprised a single person in their fandom, Opeth has decided to completely drop their death metal sound and release a second album consisting entirely of mellow progressive rock. But while Damnation, the band’s first attempt at the idea, was released to complement the much heavier Deliverance, the band’s recent set-lists and vocalist/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt’s fading interest in extreme music have led many to conclude that the move just might be a permanent one this time. In addition to the significant changes in sound, there are a few other noteworthy events that have come with this release. It is not only the first album since the Deliverance/Damnation pairing to feature a mixing job done by Steven Wilson, but this is also the last Opeth album to feature keyboardist Per Wilberg. Yeah, that’s his head falling off the tree on the album’s rather surreal cover…
Seeing as how the band has more or less been preparing for this type of direction change since the mid-2000s and possibly earlier, this effort isn’t too drastic of a departure and does generally have the feel of a typical Opeth album. In fact, it could probably be described as a slight cross between Damnation and 2008’s Watershed though it is most certainly its own release. Like Damnation before it, the vocals are cleanly sung the whole way through this release and the actual musical content seems to be just as influenced by jazz as it is by progressive rock. However, Heritage is not meant to be a Damnation repeat as it is distinct by its rather atypical song structures and transitions, unusual sound flirtations, and very occasional heavy guitar touches.
Oddly enough, the guitars just might be the instrument that stands out the least on here, which is rather funny when you consider the band’s metal roots. Sure there are a couple of heavier songs and there is some great acoustic work done, but they seem to be pushed into the background every now and then and are forced to make way for the other instruments on here. Fortunately the other instruments do manage to stand out on here and put some great performances. Even if this is his last release with the group, Wilberg’s keyboards are all over the place with there being plenty of piano, mellotron, and Hammond organ touches. The bass is also clearer than it has been on just about every release before this one and the drums go along with the jazzy feel well by establishing some pretty nifty patterns.
And as expected, Akerfeldt still has a really good clean voice that goes along with the melancholic music on display. While he does need to give himself a bit more room to really get passionate about his performances and it would’ve been awesome to see Wilson contribute some backing vocals as he did on previous contributions, but it is generally well done and the growls are almost never missed. Hell, they wouldn’t have fit on here anyway…
But while the sound change was a needed one and the band members play with class, there is still one flaw left that’s been pretty consistent through their career: Opeth is most definitely not a songwriter’s band. Damnation did show off some great composition skills and there have been some legitimately well-written songs here and there, but the band has always had a habit of focusing more on making longer pieces with abrupt transitions than coming up with memorable melodies or anything along those lines. While Heritage and Watershed both try to remedy this by working with shorter song lengths, there are still several transitions that get executed in rather awkward fashions. This does lead to some cool ideas coming out to play every now and then, but it also means that several ideas never really get a chance to develop as much as they could have.
With this in mind, the album can be a bit hard to listen to all the way through as more than half of it consists of mellow ambient numbers with the expected flashes of progressive weirdness. Fortunately several songs manage to sound pretty good with “I Feel The Dark” and “Folklore” standing out for the former’s sweet acoustic guitar and vocal melodies and the latter’s more active climax. “Nepenthe” and “Famine” also have some good ideas with the latter bringing about some dark flute touches, though it would’ve been great to see them developed a bit differently. But while the album is largely mellow and jazzy, “The Devil’s Orchard” and “Slither” are more guitar-driven numbers. The former was a pretty wise choice for a single with it essentially feeling like a leftover from Ghost Reveries without any overt harshness involved. The latter track, yet another song written as a tribute to the great Ronnie James Dio, is easily the most memorable song on here as it is essentially three minutes of “Kill the King” worship with a minute long acoustic outro. It’s another one of those songs that should’ve been expanded more but it is a great track that features Opeth at their most atypical.
Also worth noting are the two instrumental tracks that bookend the album. While the opening title track is two minutes of twinkling courtesy of jazz pianist Joakim Svalberg, the closing “Marrow Of The Earth” ends up being one of the strongest songs on here thanks to its particularly sad guitar touches.
When it all comes down to it, this is honestly a hard album to get a solid opinion on. Everything does sound good but the often-awkward songwriting does give one a good understanding of why it’s considered to be a major disappointment by so many people. It’s definitely not as awful as some people may think it is and actually makes for great background music, but it is most certainly an acquired taste. I just hope the band doesn’t take the mixed reception as a sign of abandon this direction. There are some great ideas on here and there’s a lot that could be done with a bit more care considered for composition. If anything, I hope the band gets more involved with Wilson on future efforts as the man’s own discography does demonstrate his incredible ear for melody. And now I’m left wondering how the rumored Akerfeldt/Wilson collaborative project will turn out once it’s finally released from development hell…
“The Devil’s Orchard”
“I Feel The Dark”
“Marrow Of The Earth”
Yes, alright I'll admit, I was quite surprised too when Opeth's Heritage released and I actually disliked the album at first. Fortunately I decided to listen to it again because i had never disliked anything from Opeth before. The second time I heard a bit more details and more of the simplistic hooks really caught my ear. For instance the simple 4-note motive of The Devils Orchard. Normally I'm very intrigued by the more difficult and hard to listen to hooks of Opeth, but they showed me that they don't need weird timed riffs and can wrap me up into a song with just a standard tune.
I think the main two changes that stick out and create the hype around Heritage are: the drastic change in genre and the fact that Mikael doesn't growl in this particular album. Yeah? So? I don't see a problem there, I think that half off the people who disliked this album, disliked it before it came out. Purely because they focused on Mikael's vocals. I however disagree with those people and see improvement in Mikael's singing. The song Slither has a line: "A bleeding heart led by desperation, like a bird on a wire" which really shows that Akerfeldt is able to sing with a nice raspy voice, In contrast to Häxprocess in which he softly and beautifully sings:
"A lifeline in a drop of blood.
A dying wish to shun a God.
Sought a dream inside the light.
Finally relieved from plight."
Opeth's front-man told in several interviews that he wanted a more natural approach to the production, no weird effects to clean up the sound but just plain instruments and I like it. The 80's distortion on the guitars allow you to really hear what's going on. During the solo in The Devils Orchard every individual note is clearly hearable and not perfect-ionized by a fat layer of distortion. The same goes for the very natural bass guitar.
And the drums, WOW, Martin Axenrot you've really proven yourself. There is always somewhere a discussion going on who is a better drummer, Opeth's previous drummer Martin Lopez or the newest drummer Martin Axenrot. Usually Lopez is seen as a better drummer but those who say that should really take another listen to Heritage before they speak because there is some incredible drumming going on.
Obviously not everything is perfect, I dislike the intro of Famine. The flutes might sound original at first listen but after a few spins it kind off begins to annoy me. and the line: Feel the pain in your brain insane is just incredibly bad. Plus the verses of Folklore are not so impressive just as the chorus of Famine.
But I can let that go because the rest of the album is quite impressive though. If you don't listen to Opeth just for the growls or just for the metal and you like them for their music then I think you will really enjoy this album. Maybe not at first but you'll love it eventually.
There are no epic death growls here. Now that we have the obvious out of the way, let’s focus on what this album actually stands for. The album art stands for where Opeth is today in their careers. In a seemingly unfortunate move (though this is hopefully not true) the roots of what the tree grows in stand for “hell” (their death metal past), the skulls on the ground are for the past members, and Per Wiburg’s head is falling off since he left the band as keyboardist shortly after recording Heritage. Could this mean that their death metal influences are over? This new album hints at that.
I like to lie to myself by thinking this is like an “unplugged” version of Opeth. Essentially all death metal elements, not just the growls, are absent here. It alienated me at first and left me a little in shock that it happened, but I also like to think that Opeth has pretty much done everything, so why not try something completely different? It seems that some people forget that Mikael Akerfeldt has an epic singing voice as well as epic death growls, so I embrace the idea of him doing a full album composed solely of singing. But missing the death metal musical elements as well… I think this should have been a side project album of a different name and not released under Opeth. They are hardly the very first band to release an album that alienates the rest of their discography. Metallica, Slayer, The Devil Wears Prada, and Korn are just a few examples of other bands who have done the same, with varying results.
The uncanny resemblance to Jethro Tull hardly seems like an accident. Although Opeth was known to people as a “heavier” version of JT with less flute usage, Heritage is the one that brings this to light. Try listening to “Cross-Eyed Mary” and “Teacher” and see if you can make that correlation for yourself. The jazz upswings used throughout the album are noteworthy of this as well.
The acoustic bridges that were in past albums now have a more prominent role in the album, such as the track “I Feel The Dark.” This was one of the first songs where I thought they were just going to break out and growl that sweet bliss at any moment, but it never happened. It progresses from acoustic guitar and synth strings to bold strokes of electric guitars across the soundscape. If death growls were to be used, the three minute mark in this song would have been utter perfection. From there, it goes into an almost stoner metal vibe.
For a change of pace (as if that wasn’t already going on), “Slither” is a full-on rock/metal song not too unlike Led Zeppelin. Let that set in for a minute and digest. It has a sense of 1970s nostalgic value that is actually quite surprising to me that they can pull it off and still make it sound like an Opeth song. Akerfeldt’s voice is as powerful as ever here, but the music lacks the progressive elements that Opeth pretty much invented and are world renowned for.
Now if Opeth were to come back on their next album and do straight progressive death metal without any singing, then that would throw their fans for a loop and would honestly make them take this album more seriously. This is not an album that should be bashed as much as I’ve seen it (some even stoop to compare it to *gag* Morbid Angel’s latest abomination-in-the-name-of-metal release) and should be looked at for its own merits. Now go listen to “Nepenthe” and feel some of that funk.
It’s hard to believe that we’re actually looking at Opeth‘s 10th full length studio record now in 2011. It’s amazing how the little progressive death metal band that could is a global powerhouse of extreme and progressive music that is signed to one of the biggest labels in the metal world. Heritage was billed as a bit of a ‘look backwards,’ in a sense, with main man Åkerfeldt saying that he thought extreme metal was boring and that he has thought that for a while and so this was going to be something else. As a long time fan (who has regularly been called a fanboy), I think it’s obvious to me that Opeth was outgrowing their roots. While I think that Ghost Reveries is a genius album, Watershed was definitely not. It felt uninspired and rushed. So the big question for me coming into all of this was: would having more time and freedom make Heritage feel fresh? Would it be a record that would change Opeth for good—and also for the better?
Heritage is very much as Åkerfeldt said in a recent interview, a progressive rock album that sounds very much like its biggest influence actually is mainly Opeth. Over time, Åkerfeldt has crafted a sound that is unique to the band and that has moved them into the limelight. There is a cadence and melodic structure to Opeth riffs that just feels very Opeth. The linear fashion of writing songs is also something that, nowadays is commonplace, but that has long been associated with Mikael’s writing style. Songs that are often more like movements than traditionally structured tracks works well in death metal, which is so heavily riff-based. This made for epic soundscapes that were at once exciting and interesting, but also had the ability to be fragile and beautiful. It was a sound that worked for the band and launched them into the stratosphere popularitywise.
But while Heritage retains Opeth‘s voice (metaphysically and physically, of course), it does not retain its genius and I think this has to do with the fact that the songwriting on Heritage feels almost lazy, but certainly underdeveloped. A better way to say this might be that Heritage is full of great riffs and ideas, but not many very good songs. Instead, the listener is left feeling like the writing process was just to take a bunch of ideas and to hamfistedly shove them into these somewhat linear songs, often times with little regard as to key, time signature or context and feel. While this could seem “progressive,” for me it doesn’t feel so progressive as disjointed. A case in point is the single “The Devil’s Orchard” where, instead of writing a transition on guitar, keyboards are used to transfer out of a very cool verse/chorus iteration in a pretty jarring, unrelated fashion before trying to segue back to the main “chorus” theme at the end randomly.
This kind of patchwork writing with bad or jarring transitions is basically the mark of Heritage. The same thing happens in “I Feel the Dark,” “Nepenthe,” “Famine,” and “The Lines in My Hand.” It even happens in my favorite songs on the record, which would definitely be “Slither” and “Folklore.” The only tracks that don’t suffer from this are “Heritage,” which is a piano track and the outro “Marrow of the Earth” which features Wishbone Ash or Iron Maiden-style guitar harmonies, which is similar to “Ending Credits” from Damnation or “Epilogue” from My Arms, Your Hearse.
In spite of all of this, there are some really great moments in these songs, too. I love the first 2 minutes and 50 seconds of “Slither,” and it’s very cool riff and “Beneath the Mire” kind of drive, before it devolves into a non-related acoustic guitar part that wasn’t developed. “Famine” works with its very Jethro Tull feel, before devolving into a jam at the end that I’m not a huge fan of. ” Without the first 2 minutes of “Häxprocess” the song would have been genius, but it just sort of meanders in and then despite that the rest is really good, it feels a bit dead on arrival. “Folklore” is probably the most consistent track on the album, in my opinion, and it’s got a great Kebnekajse or Jan Johansson kind of feel to it that really hits the spot. And the band itself is playing as well or better than it ever has. Martin Axenrot is finally achieving Lopez-style jazz feel, while Mendez performs excellently on the bass. Fredrik has a number of great solos and, of course, Per’s keyboard work is the glue that holds the record together.
But beyond the obvious talent of the band, what do they leave the listener with? The record has grown on me to a certain extent since I first got it. There is arguably a “unifying feel” of the album, even if the writing is disparate and disjointed. But the whole is, unfortunately, not greater than its parts. Instead, I’d say there’s about 40 minutes of pretty good to excellent music, but a lot of bad transitions and only a couple great songs. This leaves me, frankly, aghast, as the fantastic transitions and compositions are the thing that really elevated Opeth to the level of great in my mind. If you think about the transition in “A Fair Judgement” at about 4:15 in the track or the transfer from “Pull me down again…” into the new part at 4:01 in “The Drapery Falls”. How about the end of “When”? And I could increase this list 10-fold.
So to say that Heritage is a disappointing record is almost an understatement. While I found some of things really growing on me since I started listening to it, which places it above Watershed in the pantheon, it is not a record that I think really belongs in the same breath as the band’s earlier stuff—or in the same breath as bands like Camel, Rush, Yes, King Crimson or Jethro Tull. Whether it is that the keyboards transitioning unlinked ideas has become a crutch, or that the tendency of death metal riffs to be based around an open E hid a lack of sophistication in Åkerfeldt’s writing style, Heritage exposes these problems in a way that even Watershed didn’t. And that leaves this Angry Opeth Fanboy feeling very disappointed.
Originally posted at AngryMetalGuy.com
Opeth would leave us in our darkest hour, yet trust us with its life.
I am just going to get that out of the way right now: this album is sub-par material for Opeth, and it has nothing to do with the style. I am not stuck inside Opeth's realm of progressive death metal. Damnation is my favorite Opeth album. This album is sub-par because the songwriting is sub-par.
The album starts with the beautiful, folk sounding title track. If the entire album continued the trend started in this song, it would be a good album - great, even. Unfortunately for us, it doesn't...
"Heritage" continues into the only real progressive metal song here: "The Devil's Orchard." By first listen, one can already tell this isn't up to par with previous Opeth songs. I will say it's a good song with some awesome riffs, but the overall delivery leaves a bit to be desired. It also shows signs of one of the album's biggest flaws: poor transitions. Opeth music, in the past, has usually had great transitions within each song. They flowed together seamlessly. The transitions in Heritage flow together horribly, ultimately leaving a bad impression. It's as if each part should've been a new song, but that would've left too many tracks (and ten tracks can already be considered too many for an Opeth album), so several were thrown into one song instead.
It's not just transition problems that bring this album down, though. The album is completely cluttered with outright boring interludes that bridge together parts of each song ("Häxprocess" and "Famine" are full of these interludes). Where there isn't mind-numbing interludes (sleep music, maybe?) bridging different parts in the same song, there is often times bad songwriting ("The Lines in My Hand"). The riffs and melodies commonly sound like leftovers from Damnation that Mikael didn't get a chance to use, but he didn't want to let them go to waste.
"I Feel the Dark" is one of the album's biggest offenders here. The track meanders off too much with multiple uninteresting ideas, showcased in the use of several unmemorable sections bridged together with unmemorable interludes. "Famine" is perhaps the worst song on the album, because it's eight minutes of boring ideas all thrown into one cluster of failure. When it's not being boring, it's being outright odd with wild flutes passages and what sounds to me like bongo beats (yes, fucking bongos).
Of course, not everything here is bad. "Nepenthe" is a very beautiful track - it's as mellow as the album gets, but the songwriting isn't completely terrible, unmemorable, or whatever you want to call it. Aside from a bit of guitar wankery for a small part of the song about half way through, it's completely relaxing, and very emotional. "Slither" as well uses fun riffs throughout the first 3/4 of the song, before it breaks off (poorly) into another slow section that continues until the track's end. The title track and the closing track "Marrow of the Earth" are fascinating, beautiful instrumentals. They're the kind of tracks I'd want to relax to on a cold, wintery day with a hot cup of tea.
Likewise, throughout the "bad" tracks there are "good" parts. "The Lines in My Hand" is poor, boring material that picks up for the last ~50 seconds with some catchy vocal lines (and Opeth isn't exactly known for being "catchy"). The vocal lines of "Häxprocess" are great, but the instrumentation for the majority of the song is still uninteresting, largely because it carries on for way too long. If about half of the song was cut, it may be a highlight of the album.
"Folklore" is an absolute mixed bag. While the first four minutes or so of the song has the same problems as the rest of the album, the last four minutes picks up with an instrumental bridge that's actually interesting, and sets a beautiful atmosphere for the rest of the song. I can't really put words to it, but the song finishes up brilliantly. The guitar finally kicks in and delivers an absolutely amazing hook that opens up Mikael singing a well crafted vocal passage, and finally ending with the best guitar riff in the entire album. Honestly, the last two and a half minutes of "Folklore" make listening to the rest of the album actually worth it. Like "Häxprocess," if half of this song was cut, it'd be an absolutely excellent and memorable song that would make the most stubborn haters sigh in content. I've replayed the last two and a half minutes of this song more times than I can count.
While the album suffers from several flaws, none of them prove to be more of a blockade to the listener's enjoyment than the sheer uninteresting songwriting. Most of it is so uninteresting, I had to actually listen to the entire album from beginning to end as I was writing this review, because I couldn't even remember most of it (despite having heard it a dozen times or more already). The album suffers mostly from disjointed transitions and simply boring instrumental sections. Almost every song on the album overstays its welcome, or delivers too many boring sections. Out of the ten tracks on the album, there are three good tracks, three good tracks with bad parts, and four bad tracks with good parts. This does not make for a particularly enjoyable listen, and it definitely falls far short of what I expect from Opeth. Mikael's vocals are definitely great when he has good lines to sing, but sadly Heritage does not offer nearly as much of those good lines as it should. The lyrics here are mostly hit ("Nepenthe") and miss (most of "Folklore"). This is perhaps an even greater shame, as Opeth has had some truly remarkable lyrics in the past.
In the end, I'd recommend this album to a die-hard '70s progressive rock fan, because he'd probably love it. I'd also recommend any Opeth fan to check this out at least once, even if only to see how different it is. Anyone else should most likely stay away from this album. If you're looking for an Opeth album to start with, then look at Damnation.
Here we have it, Opeth's Heritage is going to be the most divisive album of the year. As the details of the band's tenth full-length slowly came out, we were gradually given a picture of one of the most beloved bands in metal abandoning metal entirely. It didn't really surprise anyone. They had done progressive rock before on 2003's Damnation, and since 2001's landmark Blackwater Park, they had become progressively more experimental and more willing to flirt with softer sounds, culminating in 2008's aptly titled Watershed. That album opened with the super-soft "Coil" and included the strange ballad "Burden" as its centerpiece.
So it's not surprising at all that they've abandoned growls, heavy guitars, and aggressive drumming. But the question is, can they pull off the 70's prog album they tried to pen? The answer is a qualified yes.
Heritage is absolutely not metal. "Still," as observed on Beards, etc., "it [doesn't] sound like some random prog band, it [sounds] like Opeth." The album is extremely progressive. Not necessarily in the sense that it's technically demanding, but in the broader sense Opeth has always embraced. The songs unfold in unexpected ways through multiple movements. It's incredibly dynamic, quiet minimalism alternating with complex loud sections featuring many different sounds. The keyboard instruments (piano, electric organ, and others) have taken on more prominence, and they've even included flute in one track. I never thought I'd say this, but my favorite part of the album is actually a very cool flute solo. Who knew? Rarely, the album even gets a bit heavy, although much of that is provided by the organ rather than the guitars.
There are a number of memorable melodies, plenty of hooks, and of course Mikael Åkerfeldt's wonderful singing voice. The whole thing is brought together by a warm, natural, and dynamic production job that sounds exactly the way it should sound, and begs to be turned up so you can catch every detail.
What's the downside? Well, by abandoning metal entirely, they've handicapped themselves. This album is dynamic, but it's missing the most important dynamic Opeth perfected with Watershed: the delicate/brutal dynamic. Now, there's no brutality. No matter how open I want to keep my mind, I miss that, and the album suffers for it.
The verdict: keep an open mind, and you may well like Heritage. Or you'll hate it. There won't be many middle of the road opinions on this one. The very good score does reflect some disappointment because if you would have asked me a year ago, I would have predicted anything they released would be perfect.
Originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Opeth is a band that is famous for turning metalheads into prog rock fans. It was the other way for me; these Swedish titans introduced me to the world of extreme metal, a sound that I found myself averse to at first, but have since come to embrace as a realm where some of rock music's most visionary talents dwell. Although 'Morningrise' and 'Ghost Reveries' in particular have since engrained an indelible etch on my heart though, the past year saw my appreciation for this band has waned, virtually leading me to renounce my Opeth fandom; while brilliant at first, their style wore thin for me, perhaps from one too many listens to the now painfully familar soft-heavy dynamic. With that being said, let it be known that this reviewer may have had a slight bias against this band's work now. Hopefully however, my fatigue of Opeth hasn't stopped me from judging their latest album 'Heritage' on its merits.
While Opeth is best known for epic progressive death metal with strong acoustic elements and melancholic atmosphere, they are also known to deviate from that course, albeit only once in a while. The first shift away from metal was heard on 2003's 'Damnation', a mellow and depressing interlude between the heaviness of 'Deliverance', and the refined mastery of 'Ghost Reveries'. Although this was certainly a step away from what the band was used to doing, there was still the distinct Opeth-y vibe to it; the riffs were definitely the creation of Opeth main man Mikael Akerfeldt, and the feeling of the music remained relatively unchanged from the band's earlier incarnations. After 2008's 'Watershed', it was clear to many fans that Opeth was on the brink of another change- after all, only three of that album's seven tracks featured any death growls at all. Let me cut to the point; it came as little surprise that Opeth was now going to do something different with their sound. I loved what they did with 'Damnation', but as far as hearing that Opeth was planning on doing a '70s retro rock album, I was disappointed, even months before the album came out. All too many bands already in prog were looking back to the 1970's for their sound, and I was not enthralled by the news that Opeth was following suit.
After hearing 'Heritage' finally, I have a lot of things to say about it, and simultaneously I am both impressed, yet immensely disappointed. I am impressed for the fact that Opeth has been able to make a new style here while maintaining many of their trademark sounds, and the music here does not sound nearly as '70s derived as I feared it would be. On the less positive note, I have been immensely disappointed by the fact that- above and beyond, this is the most unbalanced thing that Opeth has ever done, and hopefully ever will do. I cannot see myself ever having the same appreciation for this record as I do for anything else that Opeth has done. Even still, amidst all of the confusion and disappointment that this record has created for me, there are still things that pleasantly surprised me along the way.
As far as their style goes, we still hear the interplay between acoustic parts and heavier moments, but the big change here is that all traces of death metal have been extracted out of the formula. Unlike 'Damnation', Opeth can still be heavy here, but it is heaviness in the same way that a band like Uriah Heep was heavy; gritty and over the top, with all the bombast but lacking the extremity. It is clear that- true to the reports- Opeth aims for a vintage proggy hard rock style, with pros and cons included. Even by looking at the cover of this album, it looks to me that Mikael Akerfeldt is giving a tongue-in-cheek tribute to his prog rock idols with this one, and it is reflected in the music as well; bluesy rock riffs, jazzy drumming, and plenty of keyboard textures. All the same, Opeth is clever enough here to lean towards a certain sound, without necessarily copying it note for note.
While I was pleasantly intrigued by the fresh take on the '70s prog style that Opeth crafted here, the songwriting that presents this style was another matter entirely. Even devoting several intent listens to the music on 'Heritage', I cannot describe the compositions here as anything but lackluster, underwhelming, aimless, synonyms, synonyms. The songs felt like a continental breakfast buffet at some second-rate chain hotel; there's plenty of variety to choose from, but they don't provide half of the equipment to cook the damned stuff. Much of these ideas felt like gimmicks rather than heartfelt musical observations, with a few moments making me wonder if Akerfeldt's only goal here was to sound strange or obscure to his fans. With a band of this talent, there's definitely aspects to the sound that score, but 'Heritage' is filled with a lot more misses than otherwise. Highlights of this album included the eerie title-track introduction, 'Nepenthe', parts of 'Famine', and the rather enjoyable climax 'Folklore'. While I might even say that each track on 'Heritage' has at least one interesting aspect about it, none of these songs stand much against the true greats that Opeth has churned out in earlier years.
Like most of this album, the performances and production here is given a largely mixed result. The first thing I really noticed about 'Heritage' that impressed me was actually the drumming, provided here by Martin Axenrot. While drums are usually something that takes me several listens before I start really listening in on it, I was immediately struck by both Axenrot's incredible jazz-tinged performance, and the richly organic way the drums sounded. I would even say that this is the best drumwork I have yet heard on an Opeth record. Coming in as my other favourite aspect of 'Heritage' is the keyboard wizardry of Per Wiberg, who doesn't necessarily wow audiences with technical skills here, but instead makes his mark by using a wide variety of vintage key sounds (think Mellotron, or Hammond organ) and using them tastefully. This gives a nice layer over the otherwise disappointing, grimy, and dull-sounding guitar riffs, which- once again- are among the worst that I have yet heard on an Opeth album. With Per's keyboard performance here being so vivid, it's a real shame that this is the last we'll hear of him with the band.
As I've said, the guitar riffs here are boring for the most part, and whatever pleasant aspects of 'Heritage' there are, are usually left to keyboards, drums, or other less expected instruments, like the flute. Lastly is Mikael Akerfeldt's voice on 'Heritage', as well as the lyrics. I'm beginning to sense a pattern in my disappointment here; Akerfeldt's performance here is mixed, with some moments benefiting from his warm tenor, and others feeling more like he's forcing himself to sound like some obscure hard rock singer than making a necessary artistic choice. And the lyrics; while I considered Mikael Akerfeldt to be something of a death metal poet with opuses 'Still Life' and all else, I cringed once or twice with the contrived rhymes that Mikael was trying to pass here; take a look at some of the lyrics on 'The Lines In My Hand' and you might see what I mean.
So there you have it; with another year comes another Opeth album, and for the first time in my life, I've been really let down by them, the band I once thought could do no wrong. There are plenty of interesting ideas on 'Heritage', but while listening to this, I get the recurring image of sifting through Trail Mix when I was a kid; having to rummage through the nuts and berries to get the chocolate crisps. Opeth can certainly be hailed for trying something new with their sound, but as far as experiments go, I would consider this as lukewarm, rather than the dazzling masterpiece some may have hoped it to be.
I’ve never been able to understand why musical evolution is largely frowned upon in extreme metal circles. It’s as if something went horribly awry back when rock music begat heavy metal and then heavy metal begat death metal, black metal, thrash, etc. That essential aspect of rock ‘n’ roll’s spirit which calls for constant change was almost completely stamped out in favor of a stunted “different is bad” philosophy that continues to permeate the scene today. Granted, “different” doesn’t always equal “good” either, but in order for any artistic or cultural movement to survive it must continually progress through trial and error, or risk degenerating into irrelevance and ultimately dying out. Yet somehow, metal’s more extreme genres have managed to remain in stasis for nearly three decades. Of course there are many exceptions, but for every one innovator there are literally hundreds of bands that have progressed their sound little (if at all) over the course of numerous albums, lineup changes, etc. Pillars of the various extreme metal subgenres, such as Transilvanian Hunger, Heartwork, Left Hand Path, Rust in Peace, etc are all around the two decade old mark, and yet bands are still contently copying them, and acting like they’ve achieved something of note on their own in doing so. When metal went extreme, it forgot that the bands from which it spawned, the Black Sabbaths and Led Zeppelins and Deep Purples of the world, never released two albums alike or even two songs alike. Production values may improve, bands may become more technically proficient (and in some cases even these two will cause severe backlash), but stepping outside the imaginary, self-imposed boundaries of a chosen metal subgenre is largely verboten.
Unlike many of their peers, Sweden’s Opeth were never one to tread water artistically… at least, not until recently. With 2005′s Ghost Reveries and 2008′s Watershed, it seemed as if the band’s melding of death metal and progressive rock stylings had at last run its course. After nearly twenty years of pushing boundaries, vocalist/guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt’s vision had stagnated, and while the two albums in question were by no means bad, they weren’t the genre-defining masterpieces that earlier Opeth efforts such as Blackwater Park and My Arms, Your Hearse were either. The band was in danger of becoming complacent, mired in what it had initially sought to transcend.
Which brings us to Heritage, Opeth’s tenth album and the next step in the quintet’s musical evolution. This album has already seen its share of backlash due to Opeth’s total abandonment of extreme metal elements in favor of full-on King Crimson/Jethro Tull/Rainbow-esque progressive proto-metal. I have a hard time believing that any Opeth fan worth their salt didn’t see this coming, as Akerfeldt has long professed his love for all things prog in interviews, and the band has often embraced these more mellow tendencies on prior releases. The new direction is not only logical, it’s also welcome. In listening to Heritage, it’s clear that Opeth chose to challenge themselves and follow their hearts instead of vomiting out another half-assed slab of death/prog just to please others, and for this they should be applauded.
At this point you’re probably thinking, why is it okay to for Opeth to rip off Aqualung and In the Court of the Crimson King, but not okay for some fifth wave black metal band to rip off Transilvanian Hunger? There is a difference between shamelessly ripping off and using an established style to create something brand new within its framework. Opeth might have borrowed some style from the prog gods of old on Heritage, but they have injected it with their own substance. In spite of the supposed “left turn” the band has taken in the eyes of many, this is still an Opeth album through and through. Sometimes, one must look to the past in order to move forward.
Of course, all this highfalutin talk of evolution and progression would be nothing more than pretentious bullshit if Heritage didn’t have songs. Opeth haven’t sacrificed any of their trademark craftsmanship, if anything they’ve become more focused and concise than ever before. Tracks such as “The Devil’s Orchard” and “Slither” are among the catchiest, most streamlined and flat-out rocking pieces of music Akerfeldt has ever composed, yet they still possess the intricate musicianship and emotional gravitas that Opeth has become known for. Progged-out, spider-fingered riff-workouts intermingle with ’60s psych-style keyboards, acoustic folk and soothing, jazzy passages; standout track “Famine” even features some freaky flute-work from Bjorn Lindh and percussion from former Weather Report drummer Alex Acuña. It’s all wrapped in a warm, earthy production scheme that never comes off as forced or retro and perfectly suits Heritage‘s heady brew of styles and sounds.
To me, Heritage sounds like Summer dissolving into Fall. It could have something to do with Travis Smith’s sultry, psychedelic cover art, or perhaps the “Summer’s gone and love has withered” line from “Slither”. There are also several references to Winter on the album, but in spite of this, Heritage is definitely the music of sticky, stifling days giving way to cool, breezy Samhain nights, all burning leaves and pink-orange sunsets. Something sinister lurks under the album’s surface, an ethereal, seductive darkness that Opeth’s previous works only hinted at. Think of it as the musical equivalent of Rosemary’s Baby, with a prevailing sense of dread and the forbidden behind its seemingly quiet, pretty exterior. Indeed, the Devil’s orchard is a place of eternal damnation as well as earthly delights, and Opeth’s occult prog is enticing in it’s exquisite subtleties.
With Heritage, Opeth have taken a much needed step forward. By shedding the excess baggage of death metal and diving ever deeper into the realms of airy yet insidious prog, psych, jazz and folk, Mikael Akerfeldt and co. have crafted a bold declaration of total artistic independence, flinging open wide the doors of musical possibility. I noted earlier that the album felt like the changing of the seasons, but it also feels like a jumping off point, or like the beginning of a meandering, hallucinatory journey into parts both familiar and unknown. I look forward to accompanying them on the long, strange trip to come.
Originally written for http://thatshowkidsdie.com
Peers form a big factor when determining the music you listen. So I was sort of a ridiculed person in the group of Opeth fans, when I claimed that I had not heard about them. Well, their reaction was something you would expect to see when you go to a grand prix and not know who Michael Schumacher is. This naturally aroused my curiosity, and I downloaded a couple of albums of the band, which includes this particular one. Well after listening to this album (Oh trust me I managed that feat), my initial reaction was like come on, what are these guys getting at? Agreed that they want to create some progressive music with folk influences, but these songs really get to nowhere, they have no structures and are disjointed. The music is something from 70’s progressive rock era, recycled Pink Floyd stuff with all the enjoyable elements and musical sense seeped out. Strictly speaking this is not a metal album, but we will forget this, shall we not, and I won’t be deducting any major points off for that. The lyrics are repetitive, though not bad poetically.
The vocalist is one of the worst I have ever heard. His voice is not steady, and lacks proper range. Well, people can adore his crooning and rant about how emotional it sounds, but come on almost all clean vocals backed with pianos or acoustic guitars sound that way. I can lay a wager that the ‘great’ Rob Flynn can sing similarly. Be proud Rob there is someone who sucks as much as you, if not more. No question arises about riff work as there is hardly much to note. The keyboard work is so-so. But I can see that it is more of the song writing error than faulty playing techniques in this area. The unstructured nature of the songs does lend too much help to the percussionist either as the drumming becomes disjointed. The production is fine, and the mix manages to merge all the instruments well.
Nothing much of note can be said of the individual songs. All of them are lost in a crescendo of folkish, proggish melodrama that has no idea in which direction its course is. The songs are not at all catchy, and that is a seriously bad. Ok I do not recommend that good music always be an Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. But then shouldn’t there be some interesting parts within the composition? Even the complex, disjoint epic A Pleasant Shade Of Grey achieves some moments coherence and structure and the parts flow superbly into each other. But here they do not, not even for a five minute song, leave aside the argument for a fifty four minute one. They have long instrumental sections just for the sake of having them. There is no real emotion involved. They start up just randomly anywhere and up randomly and then we are again treated to the awful crooning of that vocalist. Just when we begin to think positively about a particular idea (instrumental of course, the vocal melodies….), they follow it up with the most shitty and abominable composition ever heard. Either Mikael Suckerfeld pisses off on that with his abominable ‘emotional’ vocals, or the instrumental takes a very horrendous twist. The song writing does not really give much value to coherent pace and that is another terrible thing about this. But wait; don’t the German masters Mekong Delta achieve the same thing brilliantly? But Ralph Hubert has actual composition talent and Suckerfeldt sure as death does not. Credit given where credit due, I Fear The Dark and Nepenthe are descent compositions, and for once the instrumental sections work well; OK not well enough, there is always that part where you wish you could bash up that vocalist or the drummer out of frustration. Though in all this the problem of the utterly excretory vocals does not diminish. Folklore again works quite well, if you manage to sit out through the first half, which contains some of the worst vocals ever heard. The second half is good, and I admit good, because it is the only coherent part I remember from the album. For the rest of the tracks make sure you have a pillow with you while listening. You will never know when you drift into the boundless, imaginative world of dreams otherwise known as sleep. All of them are twisted in my memory as a single, disjoint track of horrible instrumentals and exponentially horrible vocals.
This album is a peak of how faulty and bad can composition go. Wrong influences and the idea of putting too many ideas stuffed into the little space found here and there within the lengths of the songs really makes the listener grate. Concluding, this album can be an excellent alternative to sleeping pills if you are not able to sleep, otherwise I can see no big reason to listen to this album, not even once.
I thoroughly enjoy Opeth's first 3 albums, along with Watershed. But My Arms, Your Hearse is probably their zenith as far as what I have heard. So lets get this out of the way right now: if you are much more into Opeth's older albums, Heritage is probably not for you. Gone are the growled death vocals, and most traces of even the metal aspects of Opeth are gone, traded in for a retro 70s prog rock sound as hinted at by Akerfeldt prior to the album's release.
There are still elements of metal left here. Especially on The Devil's Orchard and Folklore. But they are mostly what you would expect out of a sort of 70s proto metal band. The guitar sound does have a sort of thick metal sound at times as well.
Now a lot of people are a little pissed that the death metal vocals are missing in action on Heritage. It bothers me to a degree but Mikael has always had an excellent singing voice and he lives up to the hype he gets here.
Heritage begins with a self titled instrumental track. It also ends with another instrumental called Marrow of the Earth. Both of these songs are really good and the piano in Heritage gives it a sort of dark, gothic, depressive sort of sound. It almost seems fitting of a dark dreary rainy October day. Marrow of the Earth is along those lines as well, except where Heritage uses a piano MotE is mainly an acoustic affair though near the end the drums softly enter the song. I really enjoy the soft darkness of these two songs and they do a lot to set the atmosphere at both ends of the album.
The keys evoke probably most strongly the feeling of 70s progressive rock. Look no further than the first proper song, The Devil's Orchard, to hear it. But the keyboards stick a little further in the background so as not to choke out the rest of the instruments. Well perhaps not to far back but the guitars don't have to compete with them anyways. They are present throughout most of the album but the two instrumentals so they are sort of an integral part to the sound of Heritage.
On some of the songs Opeth's influences are worn a little more on their sleeve than others. Like on Folklore, there is a part near the start where there is a flute playing and the whole section of music following that just screams of something like Jethro Tull. In fact Folklore while being the second longest song on Heritage at a little over 8 minutes long is probably my favorite song. Famine also gives off the same Jethro Tull vibe at around the 5 minute mark it could have been taken right out of one of that band's songs.
But there is something wrong with Heritage that I cant quite put my finger on. It's a good album but by Opeth standards, the good of Heritage doesn't really seem good enough. Certain songs like Nepenthe and Haxprocess seem to just drag on and go no where at all. Its missing the aggression that was in almost all those early songs in one way or another. The closest we probably get here is Slither with its more fast paced speed and undeniably metal guitar solo. Stylistically a lot of the music here has an almost happy upbeat sound to it which seems a little out of character for Opeth. An upbeat part will lead straight into a somber acoustic piece or something else and this makes the songs sound a tad disjointed because it doesn't seem to flow just right.
All in all Heritage is sort of a confusing ride. While a good portion of it is pretty good (Folklore, The Devil's Orchard, Heritage, Marrow of the Earth, Famine) there are also parts of the good songs or songs as a whole which are difficult to listen to (Nepenthe, Haxprocess and portions of I Feel the Dark). But like I said there is good, the songs I listed like TDO, Folklore, and the instrumentals are all really great listens. The drumming is jazzy and fun to listen to and Mikael's vocals are right on.
Heritage has many good qualities but it has it's flaws as well. I can see myself going back to listen to certain songs but probably not the album as a whole.
Originally written @ http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
When Opeth announced that their forthcoming album, Heritage, would not feature any of frontman Mikael Akerfeldt’s signature growls, fans of the group immediately came to expect that the album would sound a certain way. A lot of people assumed (not without good reason) that it would sound like Opeth’s previous soft-rock, growl-free album, Damnation. Other fans (including me) figured that it would stick closer to the classic Opeth instrumental sound, and end up resembling Ghost Reveries minus harsh vocals.
The actual album, however, conforms to neither of these molds. It contains more up-tempo and aggressive sections than Damnation; but, notably, does not contain much heavily-distorted guitar work, nor is there any double-bass drumming to be found. Rather, Akerfeldt and Co. model this album upon classic mid-70s prog rock philosophies of composition; hence the title. That said, the music is not, as some have claimed, a carbon copy of the classic prog sound. Aside from a few King Crimson-esque heavy moments in "Famine," some vaguely jazzy drum and flute work, and the Rainbow-styled tribute track "Slither," Heritage draws little sonic inspiration from early prog. There aren’t any extended keyboard solos, no imitations of classical music, and no multi-movement suites. How a listener could call this "just a rip-off of 70s bands" is baffling.
Rather, Akerfeldt utilizes a quasi-progressive concept of form and marries it to typically Opeth-y timbres and subjects to create extraordinary, innovative music. It's this style of song structure that represents the album's most radical departure from the sound of Damnation, and what has also proved to be most listeners' biggest problem with appreciating the album. Whereas all the vocal tracks on Damnation use the standard verse/chorus form found in almost all pop and rock songs, the songs on Heritage deliberately avoid falling into that mold, leading some listeners to proclaim the album "incoherent" and/or "meandering." But that criticism is only true if you're using the repetition of melodic and lyrical material in a predictable pop pattern as your only method of compositional coherence. In fact, all of the vocal tracks on Heritage work extremely well as unified wholes, if you let yourself listen for other ways in which the songs are unified.
For example, "The Lines in My Hand" and "Folklore" both start slowly and softly and build to fast, loud climaxes, in a release of pent-up energy. "Nepenthe" alternates statements of a melodic theme with improvisation sections built over a jazzy drum ostinato. "I Feel the Dark" starts with a chorus for voice and guitar only, intoning the title phrase in a vaguely crooning style. The pace slowly increases until the music reaches a huge distorted explosion in the middle of the song, and then gradually tapers off until the opening chorus repeats at the end. "Häxprocess" and "Famine" both feature voice-and-piano introductions that precede relatively standard song structures. Unfortunately, squished between these two tracks is the album's only weak spot: an odd interlude for flute and Latin hand drum that actually does interrupt the dramatic flow; thankfully it's short and therefore not too irritating.
While the songwriting is the album’s strongest point, individual instrumental performances are also excellent. Wiberg and Akesson create beauty in their restraint, choosing to add color at crucial moments rather than wasting space by showing off. The Martins (including the new one, Axe) demonstrate that they're capable of subtlety. Mikael’s clean singing has never sounded better or more soulful.
The production and mixing, also completed by Akerfeldt with the guiding hand of Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, is a very important part of the album’s success in its sheer variety. For example, they give "Slither" considerable forward momentum and energy by concentrating most of the instruments in the middle of the sound-box. In contrast, for the jazzy "Nepenthe" they emphasize the reflective quality of the lyrics by isolating the percussion and vocals in the middle and panning everything else to the far right or far left, giving the song a whimsical, airy quality. The lyrics don't warrant exceptional mention, other than to say that they are standard Opeth fare, no better or worse than any other album in their career (with one notable exception, the stupid line "Feel the pain, in your brain, insane" that Akerfeldt must have been stoned to have written, but that's a minor complaint).
So I’ll subtract 1% for the dumb Latin interlude and 1% for "Feel the pain in your brain," but other than that this album is flawless and a strong contender for album of the year. It may take some patience and concentration to really come to understand it, but for the listener who’s willing to follow Opeth on their journey simultaneously into the past and the future, Heritage grants a wealth of delights and rewards.
The progressive metal scene is possibly one of the most oxymoronic scenes in the metal world. By that I mean, very few of the bands actually progress their sound. Most seem content with odd time signatures, lengthy instrumental sections and heavily metaphoric lyrics which border on nonsense.
Opeth are one of the few exceptions in this genre. Their mix of brutal death metal, haunting melodies and mathematical precision has been constantly evolving since their 1994 debut Orchard. Every one of their albums has ventured to some new, unknown place. Sometimes the change is quite subtle, sometimes (like on Damnation or Ghost Reveries) it was quite noticeable.
Heritage is the band's 10th album and I believe that singer/songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt felt that the timing was right to try something entirely new. Heritage sounds nothing like their previous output.
The change in sound is significant. Gone are the death metal screams in place of Mikeal's lilting clean vocal which is persistently present. The razor sharp guitar tone of the past has been replaced with a fuzzy, warm single-coil tone, acoustic guitars and even (shocked as I was) piano passages.
Added with this, the epic, 10 minute plus songs are all but gone. One of Opeth's trademarks was to knock out huge epic works of art which didn't have you looking at your watch every few minutes to see how much was left to go. The longest song on this album is Famine, clocking in at 8:32. In fact, in some cases, like on Slither, the truncated length means that the song can't be as complex or as involving and sounds quite radio friendly. How the Opeth fan base will take this remains to be seen, but its very risky ground for a band who have always prided themselves on being a bit "out there".
That's not to say its all bad though. On the longer songs like The Devil's Orchard and I Feel The Dark the complex and odd timed riffs remain. The warmer guitar tone is a little off putting at first but I found after a couple of minutes I warmed to it quite happily. Fredrik Åkesson, formally of Arch Enemy and Talisman, has brought a new dynamic to the dual guitars in the band. Mikael has gone on record saying that he has taken on slower and more melodic guitar solos to balance out against Fredrik's insane shredding skills. No where is there a more appropriate example as the jazz-metal middle section of Nepenthe, where Frederik and Mikael battle against each other in a stop/start, quiet/loud mash up. With the slap bass behind the lead stuff, it sounds remarkably like something off Steve Vai's Passion & Warfare album. And yes, you read right, slap bass in Opeth. I'll wait for you to pick yourself up off the floor before I continue....
Ok then, now we're all back, I'll carry on. With the change in guitar tone and instrumentation, you can actually hear the bass a lot better on this album, which is no mean feat considering I'm reviewing this through laptop speakers. Martin Mendez keeps a solid underpinning to the sound but appears to be keeping things complex enough to keep himself interested. On primarily acoustic songs like Haxprocess he really shines, keeping the electric bass interesting yet tasteful under quite a thin sonic space.
The range in sound appears to have had the biggest effect on the rhythm section and primarily the drums. Martin Axenrot has had to really step up on this album. Its not enough any more to bash out odd time signatures and thud away at a double kick, he's had to apply many more disciplines to it. The aforementioned Nepenthe has him spending most of the 6 minutes playing a jazz skiffle beat with brushes on the snare drum and a single cymbal, quite quietly, until the mental guitar solo battle comes in and he increases the volume. On Famine there is an increased focus on percussion with the song having a very African feel in sections. Hand drums, djembes, wood blocks and scrapers are all in effect to build up the sound. Quite effectively, I must say.
Opeth have experimented with keys and organs back since 2005 when Per Wiberg joined the band. Previously though, it hasn't amounted to anything more than backing strings or organs to make songs sound that much more massive. On Heritage, the revolving door of musicians that is Opeth has spawned a new keyboard player in Joakim Svalberg and an increased focus on the keyed instruments. Piano and synths are all over this album. There are vocal and percussion samples, deliberate production noise (like white noise, fake vinyl crackling) as well as lead and rhythm key work. As the most expansive track, Famine is a brilliant example of this. There is a woodwind sample repeated throughout (that for the life of me I can't work out which instrument was sampled for it), piano sequences and a massive organ sound that follows the heavy riffs which punctuate the song. The Lines In My Hand is another example where the guitars have become very much a rhythm device making a lot of background noise while the synths become a driving force of the song and in some cases sound very much like something off Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds. i'm not kidding here.
Mikael is channelling some kind of '60s frontman in his vocal delivery this time. Because everything is sung, rather than screamed, it is clear he is deliberately trying to push his vocals to new limits, where as before his singing sections were brief around the screaming bits, now he has to engage cleanly for full songs. The result of this, combined with the overall cleaner sound of the band, sound very much like a classic psychedelia band. In fact there are several songs like Folklore, The Lines In My Hand and I Feel The Dark which sound like they could have been on any of Led Zeppelin's later albums. They are that trippy.
I'm not sure what I make of this new and improved Opeth. I'm quite torn actually. Now, I'm not one of these close-minded metal heads, I enjoy it when a band makes a change, I just was certainly not expecting this dramatic a change from Opeth. The music is still intricate and interesting and Opeth have a history of chilling out from time to time (the Damnation album is the prime example) I just worry that they may end up forgetting their roots and never returning to punishingly heavy stuff that drew me to them in the first place.
But, all in all this is a good album, full of new sonic landscapes to investigate and absorb. From the opening instrumental, to the closing instrumental Marrow Of The Land, this album takes you on a journey. Its trippy, weird and unique in the modern music industry. I've only listened to it a few times and each time I do feel it gets a little more involving. I don't think it will ever stack up against their best work but if they are going to progress with this sound then this is a good start. Where they take it to next will be the test, not only of the band, but of the fans.
Listen to: The Devil's Orchard, Nepenthe, I Feel The Dark, Famine
From 1995-2001 Opeth were on top of the metal world, releasing five consecutive masterworks of progressive death metal, each of which developed their sound and explored new terrain. From the flowing acoustic passages of "Orchid" to the jazzy interludes of "Blackwater Park," the first five Opeth albums constantly bring something new to the table. However, the second half of Opeth’s career has not been as bright. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s imaginative songwriting has degenerated into a series of predictable tropes (“A heavy passage followed by an acoustic passage? Who saw that coming?!”). Furthermore, the loss of longtime members Peter Lindgren and Martin Lopez has seriously disrupted the band’s once stellar chemistry. Nonetheless, Mikael’s excellent sense of melody has kept the band treading water—that is, until "Heritage."
On "Heritage," for the first time Opeth write flat out boring songs. The compositions are sloppy, the melodies are flavorless and any semblance of mood or emotion is absent. "Heritage" is essentially a tasteless rip-off of the great prog rock bands of the 70’s. The finger prints of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Yes and The Moody Blues are all over this album. However, Opeth don’t take these influences as the foundation from which to create something of their own. Instead, Opeth just lazily rehash the pastoral sound of 70’s prog rock, resulting in a campy mockery of the bands they purportedly are paying tribute to.
The worst part about this album is the aimless songwriting; it is as if the band recorded a bunch of passages and put them together in random order. Seriously, the passages could be rearranged in any 5-8 minute segments and it would not hurt the quality of the compositions at all. While this may sound similar to the non-sequential songwriting style used on "Orchid" and "Morningrise," those albums traveled through complex emotional landscapes, recreating the unpredictable intensity of real life experiences. In contrast, the songs on "Heritage" lack the emotional sensibility needed to give purpose to such song structures. Yes, there are changes in tempo and intensity, but they are heartless.
To make matters worse, the album is full of the kind of cheesy, flowery melodies one might expect to hear in a TV ad for the local renaissance fair. Even Mikael’s normally stellar vocals are somewhat annoying. His effort to sound like a medieval English minstrel is over the top—yes, even for style of music that gave the world Geddy Lee and Jon Anderson. Sure, there are a couple nice hooks here and there and even a few good vocal lines, but none of the songs come together from start to finish.
A sorry attempt to move their sound in a new direction, "Heritage" is nothing more than a half-baked retro album. In short, "Heritage" is an oxymoron; a regressive progressive rock album.
(Originally written for www.deafsparrow.com)
When Heritage was about to be released Akerfeldt said,” I think you'll need a slightly deeper understanding of our music as a whole to be able to appreciate this record.”
I being an understanding, deep and rather a huge Opeth fan was thrilled! But after listening to the album, that quote was like asking a guy to watch his Ferrari get smashed up and then wanting him to have a wider vision!
Steven Wilson produced this album and I believe that the band should have asked the help from another producer who is more familiar with the new different approach with a bit of Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Sabbath influence, and if you love any of those bands, you will surely dislike Opeth’s album.
Heritage is without doubt loaded with new ideas which are unfortunately unrelated, it lacked the dark Opeth atmosphere we are used to and lacked any originality what so ever. What I loved about Opeth previously is taking chances on music and compositions; in Heritage music is passionless and careful, a bit underdeveloped, disjoint and rather unbalanced!
Good jazz-infused moments can be found in some songs and Fredrik played good guitar solos, but the whole album lacked any decent guitar riffs, lacked any growls and lacked any Opeth character. Per’s keyboard playing took over very vast areas and held some kind of connection in places, but it was used instead of guitars in a confusing way as in “The Devil’s Orchard” and this continued in other songs like, “I Feel the Dark,” and “The Lines in My Hand.” Piano was a major part in the title track “Heritage” which gave it a mellow feeling but been overwhelmingly repetitive and somehow boring.
Some parts of songs are awesome mentioning Häxprocess where I thought, “Finally a good song that I may like”, but as the rest of the album; it was played carefully and turned lame, so whatever attracted me; lost me! As the riffs were flat and somehow lacked cohesion. “Folklore” might be the most jointed, related together and most balanced song technically.
The only thing that gained my utmost pleasure was the lyrics because as always Opeth delivers great lines and equally great emotions throughout the words. However, those lines would fit death metal songs more than the direction of classics’ that Opeth headed for, so it failed to win me over completely.
I could not hold a sigh when listening to these lines from Nepenthe:
"Friends would leave me in my darkest hour
Yet trust me with their lives"
Listening to the album made me want to go back and listen to Damnation or any old Opeth album and I ended up listening to Dio and praying he won’t be able to hear his tribute song “Slither” wherever he is, though it is one of the best in the album.
Whether you are a Death Metal fan or a progressive fan, this album is not for you, I know many Opeth fans will be pissed off and grunting their teeth about this, but it’s time to call things by their names… “What is good is good and what is bad is bad. “
The album starts off with the wonderful Heritage, an introduction fit to prepare you mentally for what you’ll be experiencing during the album, while the “Death” portion of the “Progressive Death Metal” is not very apparent, due to the lack of any of Mikael Åkerfeldt signature growling we all love, but the music itself has some Death metal elements, or at least those present in most of Opeth’s older work, such as in The Devil’s Orchard, the music is too grim to be, as others put it, progressive rock. Although it may seem that Opeth have taken a path akin to Porcupine Tree’s, which isn’t bad at all, since they managed to keep the Opeth feel within the entirety of the album, and Slither is a testament to that very claim.
Musically, the album delivers, and it delivers well, the bass work is nothing short of what you can expect from an Opeth album, Mendez’s Jazz-y licks are present throughout the album, but since the album is a bit “slower” then the usual Opeth stuff (minus Damnation) the bass, as well as the other instruments aren’t as fast (D’OH) as the older Opeth songs, though just as technical. Axenrot, for the second album he partakes with Opeth, delivers a stellar performance, the drums are well constructed throughout the album, highlighted mainly in Haxprocess, and Famine, the drum arrangements in these tracks are marvelous! As well as the percussion used in Famine, which delivers the album’s grim feeling perfectly. While it is saddening to know Per Wiberg has left Opeth, though he has done the keyboards for this album (minus the first track Heritage, which was done by Joakim Svalberg), he does a memorable, and amazing performance in this album, complimenting the feel of the album perfectly! Fredrik Åkesson, as he did in Watershed, still does in Heritage, I don’t know exactly who played the solos in Heritage, whether it was him or Åkerfeldt, but if it was in fact Fredrik, then he has certainly done a great job! Especially in The Devil’s Orchard and Folklore!
The album concludes with Marrow of the Earth, a wonderful piece that will sink deep in your hearts, reminiscent of Ending Credits, and further proves how Opeth have not lost their way, they have simply added a few modifications that have made the album as wonderful as it turned out to be.
Overall, this album can be considered (or at least that’s how it is to me) as a progressive/jazz attempt to make another Damnation, and by all means, Opeth have nailed it! I also found the absence of the growls rather refreshing (don’t get me wrong, Åkerfeldt’s are the most brutal growls I have heard, next to Decapitated’s ex-vocalist Sauron) but had he growled, it wouldn’t have fitted the feel of the album as did his clean voice.
(Review written for: http://pierrejiskandar.wordpress.com)
Well, this certainly isn’t what inspired me to get Opeth’s logo tattooed on my arm. Opeth made a name for themselves as perhaps the first band to mix progressive rock and death metal, but now we’re just left with half of the formula. We’re left with half of Opeth. Mikael either got old and stopped liking death metal, or his vocals cords just started to give out, or some combination of both. So what we’re left with is just a progressive rock album, ‘70s-style. There isn’t even much distortion on the album, and the few heavy parts use more of a fuzz tone.
So what’s wrong with it just being progressive rock? After all, I listen to much of the same 70s stuff Mikael does, and a lot of it is pretty awesome. I had no problem with Damnation. It's a well-written album with good atmosphere, and I still enjoy it when I'm in the right mood. I think it worked because Mikael split up the songwriting into the heavy Deliverance and mellow Damnation. On the other hand, Heritage is supposed to be a complete Opeth album, but it doesn't even hope to compare to any of their other albums. Instead, it sounds like Mikael is just ripping off what prog rock bands were doing 35 years ago.
Without the heavy parts, there just seems to be something missing from this album. As I listen to it, I keep expecting it to break into a fast metal part at some point. Opeth teases a bit of this, but mostly leaves us hanging. For instance, "I Feel the Dark” breaks into a fast, heavy riff for literally 15 seconds before fading back into a slow, boring outro, leaving the listener blue-balled. “Slither” is definitely the best song on the album, and the only one that might be considered metal. If more of the album were like this, I would accept the new Opeth. Yet even this song is basically just one cool riff for 3 minutes. Instead of progressing it into something epic, Mikael runs out of ideas and tacks on a random acoustic riff as an outro. I just go ahead and hit the "next" button after 3 minutes.
This album has several other cool moments that remind us what Opeth is capable of when they’re at their best. The second halves of "The Lines in My Hand" and "Folklore" are as good as anything Opeth has ever done. On the other hand, the first half of "Folklore" has lyrics like "Feel the pain, in your brain, insane." What the fuck!? I found myself skipping the first half of the song so the annoying lyrics don't get stuck in my head. Wait a minute, I'm skipping stuff on an Opeth album because it's boring or annoying??? That has never happened before. How far the mighty have fallen!
My complaint isn't with the other members of the band. (Can we call them Mikael's session musicians at this point?) Martin Mendez’s bass work on this album might be the best he’s ever done. Axenrot shows that he’s capable of more than just metal drumming and lays down plenty of interesting patterns. Of course, Åkesson is an excellent lead guitarist and his solos form some of the highlights of the album. But the problem really has to lie with Mikael. The songwriting and guitar riffs just don’t manage to consistently keep your attention. Except for the occasional moments of awesomeness when the band seems to wake up, the rest of the album basically meanders around through uninspired soft parts. Half the album is just Mikael gently crooning over a soft guitar riff or atmospheric keyboards. It just sounds lazy and boring.
The irony, in my opinion, is that while Opeth has started to play more soft songs in recent years, I feel like their heavy songs have improved or at least stayed up to par with their old stuff, while the quality of their mellow songs has declined. "To Bid You Farewell", "Credence", "Benighted", "Face of Melinda", "Harvest"? Unforgettable classics. "Atonement", "Hours of Wealth", and "Isolation Years"? I’ve listened to Ghost Reveries dozens of times and I can’t even remember them. I had to look up the titles.
On the other hand, I thought that they really made some progress with "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" and I'm sad to not see them go down that path. "Burden" was Opeth’s best mellow song in years, and none of the songs on this album match up to that one. There are a few good ideas that really shine on this album, but a few good riffs does not an Opeth album make. You might think this is a good album if you haven't heard any other Opeth, or if it's been a while since you listened to their previous albums. Go back and listen to "Morningrise" and "Blackwater Park" and you'll hear how much more they are capable of.
Conclusion/Summary: This is a decent prog rock album, and not a particularly great one. Highlights include ‘Slither’, ‘The Lines in My Hand’, and ‘Folklore’. Sadly, most of the album seems like filler. I’m afraid Mikael is running out of ideas. Maybe he should stop being such a control freak and actually let all these new band members contribute to the song-writing process.
So here is the album on which Akerfeldt has finally dropped his harsh vocals. This may have come as a surprise, but Opeth’s progression over the years (from fairly standard death/doom on albums like Orchid and My Arms, Your Hearse to ever more progressive styles on later albums, really starting with Still Life but coming into full swing by its follow-up, Blackwater Park) should have made it clear that this was going to happen.
Indeed, not only has he limited himself to clean vocals, but nearly all semblances of metallic riffs are gone. This is, in essence, a progressive rock album – and it goes 70s all the way (which is evident from the awful artwork alone) – although this may please fans of retro-rock, it is almost undeniable that instruments like the mellotron haven't been used in rock or metal for a long time because they do not fit with modern production values, and either drift into the background or stick out like a sore thumb. This is indeed something which afflicts Heritage – the balance is rarely correct, as the... thing seems to hold a very consistent volume throughout the louder and quieter parts of the album which creates a fantastic feat in being able to take the worst ailments of two extremes and combining them.
This is exacerbated by the sheer lack of interest in which the instrument is used – the way Opeth use it, one would think it had a range in pitch of 6 or 7 semitones. Unfortunately, all the other instruments are treated in the same way – despite their descent in quality (which, over the last few albums, has been rather rapid), one of Opeth’s strengths has always been creating instrumental parts which are compositionally intriguing. This is gone. Simply slipped away to whatever far away planet Opeth have left their inspiration at between albums.
This wouldn’t be a problem – indeed, many bands write interesting music with little or no tonality – but the riffs, while complex, simply have no staying power with the listener. No riff like the opener of ‘The Grand Conjuration’, no riff like those in ‘Demon Of The Fall’, simply nothing. This is inexcusable – not just for a metal album (which this quite plainly is not), but for any rock album whatsoever. The only remotely memorable riff is that which opens ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ – at least the band seem to know which strong material to premiere before the album’s release.
That’s not to say that this is not quite clearly an Opeth album – the vocals should be a clue, but the key pointer should be the meandering middle sections, which often span several minutes. This is generally a good idea in progressive rock, but these sections are applied so liberally that individual songs often cease to have any reasonable form or structure. Those who would defend the album (and several have told me this already) claim that it is ‘classically informed’. Is it fuck. Whilst yes, classical music may share the preponderance to expand over a length of time, it is key to note one point – that when it is done in classical composition, it tends to at least have some motif or other recurring theme upon which variations are done, rather than disjointedly breaking from one section into another – a curse which Opeth seem not to be able to rid themselves of.
I’m sure that the aforementioned lack of harsh vocals will end up being the main talking point about this album, and there’s a good reason why. Whilst I have praised Akerfeldt’s work in Bloodbath, and indeed earlier Opeth, that is purely for his harshes. They have a richness to them, amplified by the warm production on those albums, which make them a joy to listen to. By comparison, and indeed by comparison to most vocalists, his cleans fall well short. They’re not unlistenable, but purely lacklustre. They sound as though there is no effort being put into them, and thus emotionless.
Simply put, this album is Damnation part 2. The least critically acclaimed album in Opeth’s back catalogue, essentially replicated, but somehow they’ve managed to remove all the parts which made even that album the least bit palatable along the way. Sadly, Akerfeldt is resolute in his direction, and I really doubt now, moreso than ever before, that Opeth will ever release another good album.
Here comes another calm and introspective progressive rock record by Opeth. "Heritage" is maybe a little bit more metal orientated than the weak acoustic sleeping pill "Damnation" but cites a lot of influences from famous progressive rock bands such as King Crimson, Deep Purple and Jethro Tull. There are no growls on the album, no fast paced tracks with a bleak atmosphere, no melodic metal guitar solos, pumping bass lines or energizing drum parts. This album really is quite down to earth, spiritual and also has a few folk vibes which adds a new element to the varied sound of this unique Swedish band.
One of the best and most essential songs on this album is the strong "Nepenthe" which truly kicks this album off after some weaker tracks in the beginning like the boring Dio tribute "Slither" and the not very well chosen single "The Devil's Orchard". "Nepenthe" has a great relaxed, floating, almost psychedelic lounge feeling with some progressive changes in style that keep a minimum of tension high. Opeth succeed for the first time to create a mysterious atmosphere without losing their dynamics and sounding too pointless.
Another highlight on the record is the folk anthem "Famine" that has some great tribal drum passages, flute tones, piano interludes and harmonious mellotron sounds. The spacey vocal effects and dominating keyboards make this track sound like a tribute to the legends of progressive rock of the seventies and this song has the special kind of magic and creativity that the others on this record don't have.
This track kicks off the strongest part of the record that continues with "The Lines In My Hand", easily the heaviest song on the album but still rather soft compared to the band's humble beginnings. Once again, progressive sounds and psychedelic vocals meet acoustic guitars but also for the first time some dynamical bass guitar licks. This song is short and sweet, gets to the point but still invites you to dream along while you listen to it.
"Folklore" is the last outstanding track on the record even though it is not as great as the previous songs that I just mentioned. The song is maybe a few minutes too long like many on this record but I like the song's spiritual atmosphere and the beautiful, inspiring and calm guitar solos in the tune. That's what the entire album should have sounded like but the track also creates some wrong expectations with its title as there are no dominating or convincing folk sounds at all in the song and I really expected more and something like a continuation of the amazing "Famine".
The problem I have with this album is that there are too many overlong and calm tracks that have nothing special that distinguishes them from stuff the band had already done on "Damnation" or in the calmer moments of "Blackwater Park" for example. The track “I Feel The Dark” is a good example for this lack of focus as it is divided into two parts that just don’t fit to each other and still feel worn-out and come both back to the same tranquilizing melodies in the end. The opening and closing “Heritage” and “Marrow Of The Earth” are too long to be only considered some atmospheric introductions or outroductions and feel stretched and pointless after all. The bonus tracks have also a lack of unique edges and fail to truly convince me.
The most convincing tracks are those that have some guest musicians that play folk instruments and similar stuff or when the band experiments something new. Many things on the album are already good and convincing but some parts could also have been more elaborated, intense and focussed. That's why I would classify this record as a really good one but it's almost as far from being perfect as it is from being a failure. In the entire Opeth discography, I would put this album somewhere in the middle. One thing where this album is easily on the top and surpasses many of the other Opeth releases is the great cover artwork and booklet, though.