67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Pale Communion (Audio CD)
Opeth's last album, “Heritage,” drew a line in the sand. It said 'we can do whatever we want no matter what people expect of us.' In hindsight, it seems like they wanted to do this on “Watershed,” but couldn't yet shake the reluctance to make a major shift in style. “Heritage” made that shift, performed well in sales, and earned the band good reviews, so it was hardly a career misstep. The thing with “Heritage” is that it didn't sit well with a lot of fans on both sides of the Opeth fence. It predictably alienated much of the death metal crowd by forgoing that genre altogether, but even a faction of fans who like their more contemporary work complained that “Heritage” was only mediocre prog at best, and that many of the songs were just too “all over the place.” Three years later, it's still their lowest-rated album on Amazon (though 4 out of 5 stars is still not bad).
Maybe “Pale Communion” won't win back everyone who moved on after “Heritage,” but it's definitely an improvement on what they began with that album. The feature I like most about “Pale” is that it shows much more cohesion, confidence, and ambition than “Heritage” by marrying some of the melodic aspects of their older sound, and even a bit of metal, with the newer prog approach. Make no mistake, Mike and co. are still going for that '70's vibe, but the entire album presents satisfying moments that remind me at different times of “Still Life,” “Deliverance,” “Damnation,” “Ghost Reveries,” and “Watershed.” For the most part, those links to the older sound come from guitar and vocal melodies that have a definite kinship to “traditional” Opeth, sounding much like the softer parts from their past albums. “Heritage” had plenty of low-key moments, but the ones on “Pale” have a stronger flavor of the old material. Examples would be the excellent “Elysian Woes” that absolutely could have been on “Damnation,” and “Faith in Others,” a ballad that sounds like a combination of the softer side of “Deliverance” and “Ghost Reveries.”
Additionally, “Pale Communion” has more heavy sections by far than “Heritage.” That's apparent when track 2, “Cusp of Eternity,” bolts out of the gate with a heavy groove worthy of the last several Opeth albums before “Heritage.” “Moon Above, Sun Below” also starts with some powerful riffing that sounds a lot like the “Ghost Reveries” album. The last minute and a half of “River” is incredible, galloping along at one point like the band who used to be referred to as “progressive death metallers.” “Voice of Treason” also gets a bit fast in its second half, and overall achieves the dark mood and vibe of the “Deliverance” album, but with strings instead of guitars and “Heritage”-style vocals instead of growling. For anyone disappointed by the lack of metal on “Heritage,” these moments should provide some relief.
Finally, I see “Pale Communion” as an improved effort because of the greater focus and cohesion in the songwriting. “Watershed” and “Heritage” both presented many abrupt, random shifts from one style to another, differing from Opeth's slow, smooth transitions from all the previous albums. “Pale” sees a greater emphasis on building up to those shifts gradually and blending styles more seamlessly. The best examples are “Moon Above, Sun Below” and “River.” “Moon” mixes prog elements similar to “Heritage” with “Watershed” metal, along with soft sections reminiscent of “Still Life” and heavier parts that at times sound a bit like “My Arms, Your Hearse.” “River” flows from acoustic rock to fusion to metal to prog with as much care and diligence as any older Opeth song, and is a highlight of this stage of their career. As a whole, the album just seems more carefully thought-out and moves fluidly through a variety of styles. I hope I get a chance to see them when they tour for it because these songs are going to be fantastic live. After a transitional album in “Heritage,” Opeth seems to have found their new sound and have begun to blossom once again. Who knows where they'll go from here...which, with a band like this, is how it should be.
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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 26, 2014 5:32:30 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 26, 2014 5:33:26 PM PDT
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 26, 2014 6:50:54 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 26, 2014 6:51:43 PM PDT
I pre-ordered the CD and it arrived today, so I didn't download it....but it's been out there for a while now. I listened to it a good 30 times before writing the review, and I just listened to it earlier today because I'm still not tired of it. As far as their older material, I'll ALWAYS return to that no matter what they put out, but that doesn't mean I can't have an equally strong liking for this album. I like it every bit as much as Damnation, and if that can be in its own category aside from their death metal albums, this one can be, too.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2014 11:47:20 AM PDT
Eric Pales says:
That's why I love this band. Some will see it as being a fan-boy and liking anything that they put out. It's not about being a fan-boy, its about a band making great music. And Opeth, while going through some line-up changes over the years. Mike has been the constant force behind this band. Opeth 2.0 is a good way to put it and I like the current members they have. Though I wonder what would change if Peter was still around or even Lopez.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2014 12:25:08 PM PDT
C. alas says:
Opethian, you are wrong. I go back to old Opeth every now and then when I'm in a metal mood. But the new style Opeth has developed is MUCH more enjoyable for me. Mikael Akerfeldt has become a better songwriter and it really shows with Pale Communion.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2014 1:07:00 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 27, 2014 1:08:01 PM PDT
Eric, I always thought it was probably the new direction that led to Peter leaving. It's just speculation, but maybe he still had the metal mentality and didn't want to play the new style Mike is going for. But even from the first album, Mike has decided where to take Opeth creatively. That's why I don't get people saying the last two albums should be Mike Akerfeldt solo, when he has always called the shots in the band. I love old Opeth, and if they went back to doing death metal, I'd be all for it, but they just couldn't have done a song quite like "River" on the old albums, and that song is becoming one of my all-time favorite Opeth songs. There's some fantastic music going on here.
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2014 8:02:27 PM PDT
M. Mastin says:
I have to agree with J. Hill. I am an old-school Opeth fan, and definitely had a hard time getting into Heritage. It had some good songs, but others were just so bizarre in their construction I found some of it hard to listen to. This is light-years better. The riffs and sound are definitely Opeth. You could take Moon Above, Sun Below and slide it into the middle of Ghost Reveries and no one would blink twice. I am enjoying the hell out of this one...and very relieved at that fact.
Posted on Aug 29, 2014 5:15:03 PM PDT
I arrived late to the Opeth party (Watershed) and the growly death metal bits were my least favorite aspects, but their musicianship and attitude kept me interested (Lotus Eater is phenomenal by any measure). Then Heritage marked that major shift that pushed many of their older fans aside in lieu of them trying a different direction. Many bands have done this (Beatles, Rush, Beck, Radiohead... Aerosmith lol) with varying degrees of success, but always staying true in some way to what the band is/was. Opeth was no different, taking their dark melodic style and plunging the prog knife deeper into its chest.
Then Pale Communion arrived last week. At first I wasn't impressed, took a few listens, then I started noticing standout moments. Then noticing standout songs. By my 5th or 6th listen I really started liking the entire thing. It's a solid, TRULY PROG effort (for any band). Musically this could be their strongest effort. The annoying font choice in the liner notes make sit hard to read along, so I'll probably wait for more sites to publish the lyrics online before I spend that couple listens learning all the words and deeper meaning. Just as an album of noise and melody this is very enjoyable.
Posted on Sep 5, 2014 9:00:17 AM PDT
J. Green says:
I think your review is spot on. I'm a major fan, but don't think their death metal was their best. I'd say for me it's Damnation, Ghost Reveries, and Deliverance. Heritage was interesting but the cohesion here is light years better. It's awesome to hear their transformation and ability to do it so sincerely and legitimately, it's kinda scary.
Posted on Sep 6, 2014 2:53:03 PM PDT
Keith A. Wellman says:
J. Hill, if Opeth really did marry some of the melodic aspects of their older sound, and even a bit of metal, with the newer prog approach, would that not be polygamy?
In reply to an earlier post on Sep 6, 2014 6:14:14 PM PDT
Does that mean Pale Communion is only acceptable in Utah?