Opeth have never been a band afraid of exploring new ideas, but even so there were still a few eyebrows raised when they announced that their new album would be devoid of death growls, and in the style of 70s prog like King Crimson and Yes. For any other band, taking such a risk would mean suicide in popularity terms, but Opeth are not any other band. They succeeded in making themselves what many metalheads would consider their ‘guilty pleasure’ with 2003’s ‘Damnation’; a departure from their progressive death metal sound of earlier albums before shifting back almost seamlessly to record ‘Ghost Reveries’ and ‘Watershed’.
Now, Opeth are for many, including myself, a band that are hard to get into. It’s really not apparent why this is, but they’ve just never really interested me despite being very similar to such bands as Between The Buried And Me in their heavy phases and Dream Theater in their progressive wankery parts. I mention this fact because it’s actually best to forget everything you know about Opeth before listening to ‘Heritage’. Right from the piano intro, it’s all a world away from what is perceived of a band that headlines metal festivals like Bloodstock without anyone batting an eyelid. It’s like we’re getting a glimpse inside the twisted yet brilliant mind of vocalist Mikael Akerfeldt. In the past he has made it no secret that he is heavily influenced by the confusing 70s prog era, so I guess it’s no surprise that he’s finally just given in, gone the whole distance and cupped Robert Fripp‘s balls and turned it into a full album.
So, with all this in mind, ‘Heritage’ is just gonna be another shit record that you tell your granddad you’ll listen to one day, right? Wrong. What greets you as you enter the realms of ‘Heritage’ is a dreamy fusion of progressive rock and jazz that exudes evil. It works well as much as an album to listen to in the dark after watching a horror film as it does a chillout album to listen to before you start your day. Akerfeldt‘s croons of “God is dead” during ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ is reminiscent of what Ghost are currently doing with their occult rock image, and the same vibe continues on through ‘I Feel The Dark’. In fact, a lot of the album can be compared to Ghost, save for the jazzy and atmospheric sections that piece together the choruses. If you listen carefully though, you can tell that it is actually Opeth; a lot of this stuff could be played in drop C and it would pass off nicely on their previous albums. ‘Slither’ works well as a fast-paced prog song, with a tasty solo to boot, but played in a different style it would easily fit on ‘Deliverance’ or ‘Watershed’.
Another thing to note here is the excellent mixing, done jointly by Akerfeldt and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree (seriously you guys, get a room). It could have easily become a clusterfuck of off-kilter keyboards mixed in with spazzy drums, but the bass is delightful and the vocals work well relatively low in the mix.
Having said that Opeth are not “any other” band, it must still be remembered that a large bulk of their listeners are of the METULZZ! breed that condemn anything outside of a galloping chord or a gut-wrenching gurgle. Checking the tags on last.fm is a good way to get an idea of the backlash that ‘Heritage’ has created. Some of them are just fantastic; “homoerotic passion metal”, “grandpa rock”, “Chad Kroeger”, and my personal favourite, “turtle aids”. Opeth are clearly gonna lose a lot of fans from this, but it’s equally likely that they will gain just as many new fans, if not more. One thing’s for sure though; Mikael Akerfeldt is gonna keep writing whatever he wants, whether you like it or not.
Written by Martin Savage