OPETH need no introduction. The masters of Death/Prog Metal are well known and likely have changed the Metal scene as a whole. Mikael Akerfelt's mastery of both incredibly heavy growling rage and mellow, introspective melodies has made his main project a staple in both Progressive Rock and Death Metal. Earlier this year, in an interview, Mikael admitted that he did not enjoy growling so much anymore. Later, when the title and artwork of his new album was revealed, it was also mentioned that it will feature no death growls. Understandably, many fans were worried. What mostly distinguishes OPETH from other bands in this genre is them alternating between the heavy and the slow. So, now that the album is finally out, what's the verdict?
To put it simply, "Heritage" is the least accessible album OPETH has ever put out. Even the biggest OPETH/Prog fan will need several listens to truly appreciate it. But if you really take the time to "get" this music, it is by far their most ambitious work since "Blackwater Park". I won't say their best, since I think comparing OPETH albums with each other is very subjective, but it's up there.
The album starts with the title track, a beautiful piece played on a grand piano. The first single, "The Devil's Orchard" is quite remarkable in how it's both the most similar to OPETH's previous work, but is also chock-full of the changes they made to their sound. It's as if they decided to put out this song as a single to say "We're still the same band, but don't expect the same style over and over again". The song itself is the most likely to please hardcore Metal fans - it sounds both prog and very "evil"!
"I Feel The Dark" starts with an acoustic chord that goes on for a few minutes, then in true OPETH fashion, it goes heavier, heavier, then acoustic again. "Slither" is, in Mikael's words, a tribute to Ronnie James Dio. While the song is good, it doesn't really fit with the rest of the songs (and costs this album its perfect score),
"Nepenthe", "Haxprocess" and "Famine" are all great, none of their sections could be called "Metal" but they are great Prog propositions. The guest musicians on "Famine" - Alex Acuña on percussion and Björn J:son Lindh on flute - deserve to be mentioned, fantastic additions to an already masterful composition.
Next comes "The Lines In My Hand". Here, I must stop and praise Martin "Axe" Axenrot for his work on this album. I wasn't impressed by his work on "Watershed" - I felt like a Death Metal drummer was asked to drum on a Prog album, which was admittedly the case, and I missed the jazzy touch of Martin Lopez. Here, however, Axe got it right - his performance on this album is nothing short of phenomenal. If you got any doubt, watch him record this song in the documentary that comes with the Special Edition DVD. Mikael describes it as "the best drumming ever in OPETH" and I can't help but agree.
The album continues with another long Proggy track, "Folklore", then ends with a beautiful instrumental song. "Marrow Of The Earth" is a soothing and calm end to the album, as if to thank listeners for taking the journey.
"Heritage" is a brave album. Not everyone is going to like it, and unfortunately many people who would love it won't take the time to truly appreciate it. I heartily recommend that you do so, so you can thank OPETH for taking such a big leap in their musical career.
(Online December 10, 2011)