The Opeth Debate

Well here it is: RockAtlantic is one year old today (hence it being a day late)! Before I start writing today’s blog I would like to say a quick thank you for everyone’s continuing support – it truly is appreciated.

Today I want to talk about a subject that has recently re-emerged in the metal world. Opeth announced earlier this month that recording for their eleventh studio album had finished and that they were aiming for a June release for the as-of-yet untitled record. The question on every fan’s mind though was ‘would it be heavier than previous effort Heritage?’

However, in my opinion that’s the wrong question to ask. What everyone should be concerned about is whether it will be more focused than its predecessor.

Before I explain my argument, first I will give a bit of background to the story. Opeth are a Swedish, progressive metal band that owe much of their success to a certain Mr. S. Wilson. Although they had already established themselves as a very competent progressive metal band with the release of four studio albums, it wasn’t until Steven Wilson provided his creative input into their fifth effort, did they really gain the following and recognition they deserved. The album in question, Blackwater Park, acted as a catalyst for their career, pushing Opeth from a homegrown talent into the international metal icons they are today.

From there, they produced the double album Deliverance/Damnation (which was later split into two releases), in which each disc was a world away from the other; one was a traditional (if not heavier) Opeth record, whilst the other played around with soft textures and acoustic guitars. From there they joined Roadrunner Records and released a further two albums, both with a slightly different feel, but neither stepping too far away from their mix of death metal and mellow interconnecting passages. It is now where we reach Heritage.

Heritage was a complete curve-ball, because although fans had heard the softer side of the band on Damnation, the band had never released an album without death growls or their signature monolithic guitar riffs as a stand alone record. Heritage was exactly what it said on the cover; an album exploring the 70s progressive music that inspired Akerfeldt and many of his contemporaries.

On a song-to-song basis, Heritage hits the mark. Tracks like Slither and I Feel the Dark are excellent and are on par with the best from their discography. However, when the album came together as a whole, the flow and cohesiveness that was expected from a band who created Still Life, was nowhere to be seen. I’m not talking about the disjointedness experienced on b-side and rarities collections, rather the feeling of emptiness, of being unfulfilled; like someone told you a joke but you didn’t quite get the punchline.

This is not to say I don’t like the album. Heritage is a very good effort; one that most progressive rock bands would be proud to release, but when you compare it to their previous efforts, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. The reason why I believe it’s an issue of focus, not heaviness, is that even if the songs had been adapted into Opeth’s normal style it wouldn’t have made any difference. Heritage plays as a tribute album to the records of Akerfeldt’s younger years and hence is immediately flawed; there’s nothing new to be found on the disc, just a reworking of old ideas to create a solid, but ultimately unspectacular album.

With the 70s inspired project out of the way, Akerfeldt has announced that this upcoming album is more varied and features some heavier material, as well as a greater emphasis on melodies. Again, Akerfeldt has announced there will be no death growls or guttural screams, but the initial response and descriptions sound promising; all evidence is leading me to believe this will be a proper Opeth record, rather than a collection of inspirations and ideas somewhat awkwardly amalgamated. Only time will tell though.

Recommended Opeth:

  1. Blackwater Park from Blackwater Park
  2. Atonement from Ghost Reveries
  3. The Lotus Eater from Watershed
  4. White Cluster from Still Life
  5. Deliverance from Deliverance

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