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The band's roots in the doom-laden shade of occult-infused Scandinavian death metal and dark romanticism are undeniable and will never elicit apology. But the transcendent emotional and melodic heights achieved on the brilliantly titled tenth full-length Opeth album, Heritage, marks a new chapter in the storied quintet's career. Band leader, singer, guitarist, songwriter and long-running consistent member Mikael Åkerfeldt has reshaped the pathway forward for his artistic vehicle without sacrificing the hard won spiritualism of previous endeavors.
This masterwork from the Stockholm, Sweden based virtuoso musicians is a mind-boggling dense maze of tempo shifts, off-time signatures, percussive experimentation and warped rhythms. It is all expertly melded together by a myriad range of emotional outpouring and breezy melodic optimism which soars above the songs like a woodland spirit surveying its forest. There are multiple hints of darkness but Heritage moves the band forward into broader dimensions.
Heritage Special Edition CD/DVD includes 2 bonus tracks, 5.1 audio mix of the album, "Making of Heritage" documentary, expanded packaging with lenticular/hologram cover.
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Orchid/Morningrise - Opeth without a fully developed sound. We see some of their trademarks, the mix of growling and clean vocals, and even a power ballad in the form of "To Bid You Farewell," although it retains its unmistakably death metal roots.
My Arms, Your Hearse/Still Life/Blackwater Park/Deliverance - Opeth developing and mastering the blend of beauty and horror.
Damnation - A side street. This album was recorded at the same time as Deliverance, and apparently the band had two options - releasing two albums, both a mix of long tracks we fans were familiar with and some shorter ballads, or releasing a "heavy" album and a "light" album. I almost would have preferred the former, if Damnation were not such a great album in its own right.
Ghost Reveries/Watershed - Here, we see what Deliverance and Damnation may have sounded like had the band opted for the former option. Long tracks with a few ballads thrown in here and there on Ghost Reveries, with longer pieces on Heritage but still, more clean vocals than we have been accustomed to in the past.
With that out of the way, I turn to Heritage, and here is the reason for my hesitation with this review. This album does not fit in at all. Damnation's tracks are unmistakably Opeth - in fact, during its live set playing Damnation through, Opeth also played "Harvest" from Blackwater Park, and the song fit in with the rest naturally. See, Lamentations. I daresay that none of the songs from Heritage would fit so naturally with any of the other "clean" Opeth songs, and I felt this way at the last concert I attended, which was indeed a collection of "clean" tracks from previous albums with tracks from Heritage. And the old tracks were objectively better.
It is hard to review this album in a vacuum, knowing the full potential of the band. It is hard not to dismiss this album as an "oopsie" and hope Opeth returns to its "roots." But that's the thing, isn't it? What could Opeth possibly do after Watershed? Of course, I asked this question after Ghost Reveries, because that album certainly felt like another Still Life, albeit with more clean vocals and a bit more progression. After perfecting the sound that made them famous, there really were only two ways for Opeth to go: a new direction, or down. Opeth chose a new direction, and I truly cannot fault them for that. But at least with Watershed, I felt I was in a familiar territory, but an expanded territory, where Opeth astounded me because they were able to do more with their signature sound than I believed possible.
So what is Heritage, and where does it fit? I think it is best to view Heritage as a tribute. Indeed, the title definitely lends support for this idea. These are tracks that certainly appear to be based on bands cited as Opeth...well...Akerfeldt's influences. It is a self-indulgent, pompous affair, and that by itself will alienate some fans. But what I missed on my first listen, and many subsequent listens, is that if this were an album by any other band, it would be considered an amazing retro record. These guys can impersonate 70's prog rock, and they can turn tired, familiar tracks into amazing set pieces with the interjection of modern sounds to remind you that this is just a tribute.
I am hoping that I am right, and that this is not the new path of Opeth, but just their nod and homage to the legends of old before they continue on their progredeath journey. Standing alone, this is a five star album, but Opeth can do better.
However, what I would add is that, being a fan of this group for many years, and having seen them live several times, this album was an inevitable step in their progression as musicians and as artists. Many of their previous albums were of primarily guttural, soul-wrenching death-vocals with an appropriate mix of enlightened tones, yet always with underlying emotion, heartfelt and heavy. While I have always been able to relate to their music of the past, it is pleasing to hear an expression in their music that is new and equally heartfelt, yet also so familiar and relatable. Anyone who has even the smallest scrap of emotion, or who knows even the slightest thing about music will have no problem appreciating this album for what it is: A work of art.
In my heart, I always knew this album was coming some day, in one form or another. In my opinion, this album is the essential Opeth. They are at the top of their game musically, vocally, and poetically. Their musical, spiritual and poetic thoughts are delivered the clearest that they have ever been, while at the same time capturing a universal feeling that is a common thread throughout their entire body of work. A feeling not unlike that of the passing of the seasons - a promise of something forever constant, yet always changing in the most inexplicable ways.
It is the most beautiful metal that Mikael Akerfeldt has produced. It's epic majestry soars, it's guitars and keyboards conquer..and it completely fails to please those of us looking for the next Ghost of Perdition.
Gone are the cookie monster vocals. I can live with that.
The thing I miss, and can't live with is the feeling. While this release is technically perfect, melodious and beautiful to listen to..it doesn't grab me by the spine and send a shiver of electricty to my brain.
Earlier Akerfeldt releases thrive on a formulaic? swelling of intensity that lead to incredible riffs and painful neck injuries.
Not present on this release.
While I do highly reccomend this disc, you should not expect to tap your feet so loud that you cubicle mates look at you with a mixture of disgust and amusement.