Sound — 7
They've received a lot of accolades in their time but the greatest compliment to Opeth is in the fact that they've been the vanguard for a whole new generation of kids, opening the door and pointing them in the direction of extreme and progressive music without letting the limelight move an inch away from themselves. Recent years have seen frequent movement in and out of the lineup and the music's changed with the faces but this, their tenth album, holds the biggest change of all. This time, the only door Mikael Akerfeldt is opening for us leads through to a dusty back room where we can admire his record collection. The frontman is a well known lover of '70s prog rock and "Heritage" is one part homage and two parts indulgence in the man's rather particular taste.
Let us start with the obvious consequence of that: metal is gone. The blazing intensity of their past is (correctly) deemed too obtuse for the blues-drenched riffs and surrealist melody on show here. That means no growls, no compressed distortion and no double bass. Even the loud-quiet dynamic that's been their bread and butter for twenty years has been left behind, making this quite a refreshing listen if a difficult one to stomach at first. Keyboards finally make a significant contribution to proceedings with the now-departed Per Wiberg enjoying unprecedented free-reign on "Nepenthe" and the brooding climax "Folklore," sounding every bit the prog rock revivalist that Akerfeldt must have envisioned when he was hired in 2005. Indeed each of the instrumentalists seems to be having a lot of fun with their parts, exercising true freedom and transforming Opeth into an ensemble, where previously it was a guitar band.
Each little rebellion against the metal scene will stir a degree of controversy as was intended, if the bizarre and incongruous cover art is anything to go by - but let us not forget that this big, bold statement was whispered in our ears three years ago, on Watershed'. The jangly riffing, whimsical clean vocals and smokey-room jams remain the same, while the marginalisation of metal and utter disregard for structural coherence is amplified many times over, making for unpleasant listening on the bloated and pretentious "Famine" in particular. Akerfeldt applies his utterly unique, chromatic writing style in the esoteric fashion more true to his biggest influences, which falls in line with the fun element of the rest of the record but sacrifices the weighty melodrama of previous albums; that may prove to be the greatest disappointment to Opeth fans.
Lyrics — 7
"Heritage" is a real musician's album; a haven for YouTube guitarists, bedroom bassists and any drummer with a set of ears but vocalists may be left out in the cold a little, as our Mikael seems to have exorcised a few demons on "Watershed" and prefers to take a supporting role this time. A couple of songs including leading track "The Devil's Orchard" harness something dangerously close to attitude but for the most part vocals are unusually reserved. The absence of harsh vocals contributes to this, of course, but that leaves room for a more versatile clean voice which Akerfeldt just so happens to possess.
Overall Impression — 6
The band have said repeatedly that they needed to make this album to continue as a unit and the liberation oozes from every pore. Only a portion of this jubilation is passed onto us as listeners however. Like so many of the forgotten classics sitting in Mikael Akerfeldt's house, "Heritage" may unravel over time, taking years or even decades to reveal all of its details - for now, it is enjoyable but not unmissable.