Thursday, September 29, 2011

Album Review -Opeth 'Heritage'

So by now you will have no doubt  read the reviews ,seen the Youtube/Facebook arguments, and probably watched an unintentionally hilarious V-log or ten concerning this album, and the 'drastic' shift in sound it marks for Swedish metal legends Opeth, moving away from their metal roots , and almost completely shedding the symphonic death metal of old for newer, more 'mature ' material.Now, for a sizable portion of fans, this has caused some level of consternation, the band accused  of 'selling out' , and other such tiresome web babble.

And it is true, on first listening to 'Heritage' one can be taken aback by how much  the band have changed tacks since their last outing, the bombast of 'Watershed' and 'Ghost Reveries' being reined in for something more understated, more subtle.But ,as long time fans and followers of the band might note, this isn't the first time the band have strayed away from their trademark extreme sound, indeed ,the band have done this before, and to a much more drastic extent , on 2003's 'Damnation'.So we have been here before, but listening to 'Heritage' a few times through, it becomes evident this is no detour ; indeed, this is the sound of a band completely tearing up their own rule book.But is it any good?

Starting with the delicate piano piece of the title track , 'Heritage' takes up where 'Damnation' and songs like 'Hex Omega'  and 'Burden' from the 'Watershed' record left off in exploring the band's love of 70's prog rock sounds.And it has to be said, in terms of first impressions, this one may just be a bit of a headscratcher.Persevere though, and the rewards are there.First single 'The Devil's Orchard', with it's odd, descending riff and bizarre time shifts is a clever and arresting number that showcases, among other things, the band's almost peerless and legendary musicianship.'I Feel The Dark' is stunning in it's use of dynamics, with a fabulous Zeppelin feel in it's folky guitar intro, that at it's halfway point suddenly lapses into a deft blend of angular riffery and yet more unfathomable  time signatures, and may be among the best things the band have ever done.'Slither' meanwhile is an old school heavy metal number with a fantastically catchy main riff, with more than a nod to Sabbath and Rainbow in it's boisterous groove.

The second half of the album is more restrained , taking in the cinematic soundscapes of Pink Floyd on the excellent 'Famine' , while 'The Lines In my Hand'  indulges in Cream's 'medicine cabinet' but thankfully bypasses their pretentiousness, while the closing two numbers ' Folklore' and 'Marrow Of The Earth' are explorations in seventies prog rock sounds that depending on your tastes will either be a slice of musical nirvana or the sound of a band truly disappearing up their own backsides.

See, while there is nothing particularly wrong with large parts of 'Heritage', and there are indeed flashes of the band's songwriting genius ,at times it can all seem a little bit safe and, it pains me to say , in places stultifyingly dull.Kudos to the band for embracing change , and progressing beyond their typical sound,but to be frank this is nowhere near the band's best work.Part of the problem is this; on every previous album, including the aforementioned 'Damnation' , the band mustered up such a strong sense of atmosphere that it was almost tangible.Here, there is nary of a whiff of that, and instead  we are presented with a record that while clever, exceptionally performed and well written, is in places desperately devoid of personality.There is  also nothing like the emotional heft  or bombast of the band in full flight, and this feels much like an album that is very easy to admire, but in places terribly hard to like.That's not to say of course that 'Heritage' isn't worth your attention, but if you're a newcomer to this band , then perhaps start with 'Blackwater Park'  or 'Deliverance' .

For fans of : Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Led Zeepelin
Listen to : The Devil's Orchard, Slither, I Feel The Dark
Stephen O Connor

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