Opeth – Heritage

Sweden’s Opeth have proved themselves one of the most original and creative prog-metal bands of the past decade. On recent albums such as “Ghost Reveries” and “Watershed” Mikael Åkerfeldt and his band balanced moments of delicate beauty with moments of brutal heaviness, and it was the way they seamlessly combined the two that was a big part of the appeal.

With their tenth album they could have taken the easy option of trying to repeat a successful formula. But instead they’ve taken an abrupt turn, and done something completely different.

Gone are the death-metal growls. While it still has it’s heavier moments it’s can’t really be described as a metal album. The whole thing has a warm, retro 70s vibe, with echoes of artists as diverse as King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Uriah Heep. There is still much here that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the quieter moments of the last couple of albums, and they still eschew traditional song structures in favour of complex epics with constantly shifting moods. Mikael Åkerfeldt again shows how good a vocalist he can be when he sings in a ‘clean’ style, and he’s got a keen ear for unorthodox but beautiful melodies.

Even with death-metal stripped out, it’s an enormously varied album. It begins with a very simple unaccompanied classical piano piece, a gentle lead-in for the delights to come. The hard rock of “Slither” with it’s barrelling rhythm comes over as a very deliberate homage to Deep Purple, with a riff and solo that’s pure Ritchie Blackmore. Then there’s the strongly jazz-tinged “Nepenthe” and “Hāxprocess”. An undoubted highlight is the penultimate track “Folklore” with a dramatic closing section which has to be one of the most exciting pieces of music I’ve heard all year. It ends, as it began, with an instrumental. The semi-acoustic “Marrow of the Earth” starts out sounding like a Blackmore’s Night piece, but builds to assume a melancholic grandeur beyond the scope of anything that band have done.

While this is likely to disappoint some out-and-out metal fans, this is still a very impressive release, and a strong candidate for progressive rock release of the year. There is endless debate in prog circles as to whether the term should refer to bands who try to capture the actual sound of classic 70s progressive rock, or for bands who evoke the same spirit of adventure of music without boundaries. Opeth are a rare band that fulfil both of these, sounding both unapologetically nostalgic and absolutely contemporary at the same time. Almost nobody else can pull that off as well as Opeth can.

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4 Responses to Opeth – Heritage

  1. Mark says:

    Nice review. I think this is an excellent album. As noted in a tweet earlier today, I think much of this album smacks of Jethro Tull (various periods of their catalogue). This is not to suggest that this is either a bad thing (it’s not in my opinion), or that the influence runs too deep (it’s certainly not a copy of anything they have done). However, I found some of the instrumentation and dynamics very Tull like – even the vocals could be early Ian Anderson. I wonder if anyone things the same thing?

  2. Tim Hall says:

    I probably haven’t listened to enough Tull to spot the similarities.

    While it’s got very strong and very deliberate 70s vibe, it comes over as a respectful homage rather than a derivative pastiche. Opeth have always had enough creativity and imagination of their own to be far more than just the sum of their influences. So it still sounds more like Opeth than it sounds like anyone else.

  3. Mark says:

    Agree, they are something different for sure. The Tull comp is strictly a good thing :)


  4. john philpin says:

    Just read your post on the guardian re GFD – hoping to see a post on your site – still this album is also pretty good … meanwhile – not sure if you saw that mr wilson is listing levin torn and white on his ‘music i am listening to’ playlist – on his HQ site – this is my review of that album – well worth MANY listens >>