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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.