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Drowsiness prevails, mostly. - 59%

Empyreal, January 7th, 2010

Alright, people. I have a bone to pick with a certain band that has garnered an obscene amount of praise since day one, and I have had it up to here! This is a band that many people will toss around as being emotional and intellectual, a band that many claim are the one savior of what they smugly deem ‘thinking man’s metal.’ This is a band that many have come to call…Opeth. The title of the album is My Arms, Your Hearse; long hailed as their best album by legions of frothing-mouthed fans who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw. And let me tell you something, faithful readers. Let me tell you that I think this much-loved album is…okay.

Just…okay. It’s not great, it’s not terrible…it’s just inoffensively, incredibly okay. It’s pretty wishy-washy and there are parts of this I really don’t like at all, but I’m not going to pretend I hate this or anything.

Most of you probably know this band’s deal. Mikael Akerfeldt plays long, drawn out songs with lazily epic melodies, doom riffs and several acoustic bits. His voice alternates between a throaty growl and a sort of subdued, distorted clean drone that sounds like something I’d expect out of a 90s rock band rather than any kind of metal – pretty good though. The songs are played at a slow tempo, with the rhythm section generally sticking to that kind of fuzzy mid pace stomp the whole time. “April Ethereal” is okay, and along with songs like “When” and “The Amen Corner,” it packs some pretty decently written dark melody lines and riffs. But it gets old, and even though the latter songs have their moments, too, it’s just tiring. The band piles the same overly emotional hooks into every seven-minute-plus song (and pretty much everything on here is), and it gets really one dimensional after a while.

I just don’t really get it. What exactly is so complex and intelligent about this music, anyway? It has a rather obtuse atmosphere about it, but in and of itself, there is not really any subtlety to this, no hidden gems to be discovered. Right from the start, you get all the wistful melody, elongated songs and time changes you expected, and there’s not really much room for it to surprise you. Akerfeldt and his gang of metal poets can really play, but there’s nothing all that shocking or revelation-inducing about it. They’re doing what you expected them to do when you pressed Play. Look at the pretentiously dark album artwork, look at the album title with the comma spliced in between words, and what do you expect? Something…not pretentious, proggy or drawn out? It’s as easy as one, two, three. Are people really that enamored to find out that what they thought was going to be mellow prog with death growls is, in reality, mellow prog with death growls? Eureka!

I am talking about compositional depth. Opeth’s music is pretty well written for what it is, but honestly, what else is there to it? Competent musicianship can only take this so far. The songs on here are played with a certain foreboding something, except the band hasn’t exactly decided what it is the listener should really feel about their music – it’s all so middle of the road in terms of atmosphere and mood that it’s hard to tell. A lot of the time it sounds like they’d rather be playing soft acoustic rock instead of metal, because most of the heavy parts here just sound forced and contrived, like they were just doing it to please people.

Opeth’s My Arms, Your Hearse is an album that tries to be meaningful, consciously attempting to sound profound and scholarly, and the music suffers for it. It most likely was meaningful to the people who created it, but the same sentiment is not universal to the listener, nor really relevant. This music is actually relatively tame. The songwriting just isn’t up to par, and while they cover this fact up with a lot of prog riffs and death growls and acoustic doodling, Opeth never really reach any kind of emotional high point – certainly not the one they intended to reach – merely settling for ‘decent.’ Or perhaps ‘long.’

This is not bad, but just because it has atmosphere doesn’t mean it’s good. Maybe some people will think it is. Me, I would rather listen to something else. There is one good song on here in the acoustic ballad “Credence,” though, which actually sounds pretty genuine and not like they’re obscuring their talent beneath superficial heaviness and morbidity, like a lot of the other stuff on here.

The instrumentations are good, but the music does nothing for me. Opeth are certainly not bad though; this isn’t nearly as annoying as their latest mis-step Watershed. This album is pretty OK, but it gets tiresome after about the halfway point, and you wish the band would get off their laurels and actually write music that is as intelligent and driving and complex as what their fanbase would have you believe it is. They clearly have the musical chops for that, so what are they waiting for?