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Lost among the riffs - 84%

gasmask_colostomy, September 28th, 2016

As metal albums go, this isn't exactly the easiest to listen to. However, as far as Opeth albums go, it seems that many people find My Arms, Your Hearse more open and welcoming than the others. That can be attested by the comments in previous reviews about being "more coherent" or "more consistent", though I would question those judgments slightly. Is this album really more coherent or is it just more concise? I remember reading the Wikipedia page for My Arms, Your Hearse a long time ago (so it might not be there if you check) and finding that someone had written information which stated that this was Opeth's only album (at the time) with no song exceeding 10 minutes. That would seem to be a needless comment, yet it does feel pertinent with a band so renowned for writing very long songs, which is presumably the reason why many metal fans have turned their noses up at Opeth's music. I suppose I can see that cutting the song lengths here has made some difference to the overall effect, though we get an album largely similar in construction and style to the preceding Morningrise.

For those not familiar with Opeth's signature style (why not?), the Swedes used to meld together mid-paced melodic death metal and super-heavy prog rock riffs to form the basic chassis of their sound, then ladled a ton of acoustic guitars, baffling time signatures, and soaring solos into the mix. To top it off, Mikael Ã…kerfeldt would roar in a deep voice (think Insomnium) and occasionally sing pleasant folky cleans to narrate kind of conceptual stories. My Arms, Your Hearse has a kind of conceptual story, but I've never felt drawn into it in the same way as the one in Still Life, so it falls to the music to make an impression. All of the above listed elements are present here, plus the sometimes autumnal splendour of Opeth's sprawl that rears its head in post-metal sheens on the likes of 'When' and makes those moments fit for daydreaming. A lot happens in these songs too, with few repeating parts in most songs, if any. You can pray for a chorus as much as you like, but you ain't gonna find none.

That style means you can choose two different methods of listening to the album. Either you can sit bolt upright and stay alert through the whole experience, taking care to notice all of the time changes and song segments as they come and go, or you can lay back on your bed and let the whole thing blur before you as it takes you on a journey away from your own life. Both ways have their merits, the first allowing the musos to appreciate the evident skill that goes into playing the music, the second a way to tap into the atmosphere and wandering nature of the compositions. I'm an advocate of the second method, although I must say that sometimes I get lost within the album and find myself confused as to which song is playing, since there are fairly few hooks in either music or vocals, which the band would later improve upon. I understand that some will find that wandering nature troubling because of the lack of focus that it implies, but the fact that almost all the individual ideas are diverting makes it rather a null point if one accepts the songwriting on its own terms.

As I mentioned, I don't find it easy to distinguish the songs, but 'Demon of the Fall' and 'Karma' give some easier signposts within their twisting forms, while 'Credence' features entirely clean guitars and vocals, proving tranquil and soothing amidst the jagged heaviness. 'Demon of the Fall' is a fan favourite precisely because of that jagged heaviness and has the pick of the riffs, which change styles between soaring melodeath, brutish pure death, and the jarring rhythmic style which belongs only to Opeth. The other songs have great riffs too, though the complexity makes them more of an experiential delight than a memorable one, even if a few sections stand out in the opening numbers. Regarding the interludes, of which there are three, one might deem them unnecessary in an album that already includes acoustic sections and so on, but they work as a simpler break from a largely heavy set of songs, mostly focusing on just one idea during their length.

There is no great gap in Opeth's progress from debut album Orchid in 1995 to Deliverance in 2002, though the gradual trend was towards better organization of song structures and fewer superfluous parts. My Arms, Your Hearse certainly marks the first time that the band made a conscious effort to control those things and - despite a lack of truly memorable parts - means that they succeed in keeping most listeners on board from start to finish. Probably loaded with the tastiest ingredients of the band's career, Opeth would do better at crafting a finished product on the following attempt.