Sound — 7
'Heritage'. Such a fitting title for the album. Just the title alone was enough to make people wonder what Opeth might do next when it was first muttered It most definitely a vast transition from all their previous efforts and I think these comparisons that people get so worked up about are putting the reputation of this album down a bit. Of course, these comparisons were bound to be brought up, but after all I am reviewing THIS album, not the others. When Mikael popped up in a few interviews earlier in the year, everyone was anxious about the fact that he said there were no death growls on the album. To me Mikael has the best growls (and singing voice) so needless to say, I approached 'Heritage' with apprehension. Not because it was inevitably going to be different from everything else, but because it was almost going to be a time warp into the 70s prog movement that I wasn't too familiar with. Even though I'd listened to a fair bit of 60s/70s prog, Mikael is known for being a huge enthusiast of old/rare records, and I felt like I wasn't going to be prepared for what he and the band had in store. Anyway, anxiety aside I was really buzzing for the album. I pre-ordered it as soon as it became available, and downloaded the leak; I was that impatient. At first I was puzzled. I knew there wasn't going to be much of a death metal influence on 'Heritage', but usually when Mikael says "It's going to be more toned down" or something like that, he's just being modest. He's very secretive with his albums and likes to give people a surprise. With this it was a huge surprise. TRACK BY TRACK: Immediately from the instrumental title track, we're lulled into the dark and delicate atmosphere Opeth are well known for. It sets the listener into the comforting world of "Ahh, this new Opeth album's gonna be fantastic", and it does set a great tone, but it doesn't go at all with the rest of the album. It's an odd usage of "false sense of security", as it sounds like it'd lead into a darker, heavy, more gothic vibe. I suppose that's exactly what they wanted us to feel. 'The Devil's Orchard' leads in almost brilliantly from there, the first roll of the drums and guitar stopping to make way for a single bell toll. While that single toll echoes into silence, we're sat for a second or three wondering not what the rest of the song's gonna be like, but what have this band created. After a couple of these drum and guitar rolls the song picks up the pace for about 10 seconds. The rubbish thing is after that quick pace slows, we kinda wish it didn't. The ensuing riff is fantastic and really fun to play, but you feel that the original pace they'd set would've made the song much more lively. The song sets out high hopes at first, but slowly and surely grinds to a tedious halt. Not a high point of the album but I suppose it works. 'I Feel The Dark' follows, feeling like a sequel to 'Hex Omega'. Laden with piano, synths and acoustic guitars, the song sounds like it could've come off 'Damnation' easily. It's a brilliant little tune that definitely sounds like it should've come after the title track. It's much darker and in a way heavier than 'The Devil's Orchard'. The change in tone and dynamics from that eerie whisper at 2:55 followed by a couple of short drum solos is just incredible. Mikael has definitely taken favour of more major sounding modes now, with a lot of his vocal melodies sounding like ones out of 'Atonement', a song in which this album tends to nod to. 'Slither' sounds a lot to me like old-Rainbow, with the main riff being reminiscent of songs like 'Stargazer' and 'Gates Of Babylon'. It's the most structurally song of the whole bunch, never feeling like the transitions are uninspired or boringly repetitive. With a much more upbeat and classic rock feel to it, the key shifts and riffs kind of remind me of 'Hocus Pocus' by Focus. There's not much else I can say about this song, it's definitely one of the high points of the album. The subtle changes are enough to evoke a different emotion each time. 'Nepenthe' soon succeeds with a much more annoying structure. The song definitely had the potential to be incredible. This is the point where the aforementioned crap transitions come in. The song to me is split into three sections. The first being full off stoner rock influences and key changes, the second full of erratic, short bursts of lead work and Crazy Prog, then back to the stoner rock for a minute or so. It uses the whole loud-quiet thing very badly in my opinion. I love the guitar work, it reminds me of Alex Lifeson in a way, and the keyboard "riff" is awesome, but structurally the song just feels like a jam (which it most likely was). I'll give it high marks for the potential it had, but the execution is less that admirable. "Hxprocess", which is Swedish for "witch trial", follows the "I Feel The Dark" kind of vibe; grim but alluring. The acoustic work is phenomenal and the drums are a dramatic shift from Axe's usual work. You can tell from around now in the album that the band have really sat down and studied their instruments, thinking of different ways to compliment the songs and keep things refreshing. The sparse lead work towards the end is one of the most relaxing uses of distorted guitars I've ever heard. There are quite a few different sections laden into the song but they never seem out of place or badly transitioned, except for maybe the piano outro at the end. One of the high points of the album. 'Famine' starts off very strangely for an Opeth song. The song "kicks off" with a flute and some sort of sample. Low rumbling noises follow and a very eerie high-pitched drone... Odd. Some tribal drums come in along with some sort of low vocal chant, sounding like something out of Indiana Jones. A soft piano passage puts an end to all of that... Whatever it was.. Along with a tender vocal performance from Mikael. Immediately when the piano/vocal section finishes, frantic guitars and drums lead in, sending the whole song into a completely random and unfitting crazy prog section. Then straight after that, another uncomfortable transition. Again, this song shows how their structural skills are suddenly lacking. Luckily Mikael's vocals save it from being completely pointless. It's around the 4:40 mark when the song gets back up on its feet again, with an awesome doom/groove passage that is imitated throughout the rest of the song by keyboards. It's all a bit messy, but still a good song. It's much easier to listen to when not paying attention to it, but die-hard Opeth fans and musicians might find it a poorly plotted piece. 'The Lines In My Hand' for me is the lowest point of the album. That's not to say it's rubbish but it doesn't really get good for me until about 2:10. I'm not a fan of the beginning section, and I can't really say why, I just don't really like it. The drums and acoustic guitar stand out the most as well structured/played parts but the music is a bit stale for me. The groove starts to shift just after mid-song and it starts to feel a lot more balanced out. The first section just seems like they've all been asked to loop their parts and every now and then add in something different. The tone changes slightly about 3/4s of the way in and each of the members really get it going. The last couple of minutes have the most metal influence in them I think. Fairly good little tune. 'Folklore' fades in with an almost sea-shanty feel to it. That lasts about 40 seconds, then the songs main phrase comes in on its own, shortly followed by the rest of the band. The melody line over the rhythm guitars is incredibly affective, and the use of 3/4 - 4/4 is a little delight of mine. The vocals are so hypnotic as Mikael is using an underwater flange type of effect. This is a song full of little things you don't register with one listen. Definitely a high point of the album, very structurally sound. The end section is very reminiscent of 'Knights Of Cydonia'. 'Marrow Of The Earth' probably wasn't the best way to end the album but it has some amazing guitar work in there. One of the best instrumentals Opeth have done. I think it's just me being picky when I say "I wouldn't have ended it like that", but I just feel the album transitioned badly as it ended. Feels like one big fade-out really, a template this album has way too much of.
Lyrics — 7
Now's the best time to admit I've never really been overwhelmed by Mikael's lyrics. They are well put together and along with his vocals they always work, but they tend to be vaguely descriptive. I'm not saying he should change anything he writes, but he's only just off the marker in terms of giving off a good sense of imagery with his lyrics. I'll probably get bashed for this but look at The Black Dahlia Murder's Trevor Strnad's lyrics. They're amazingly poetic and solid with each and every line painting a vivid picture in your head, whereas Mikael's only do the first part. I'm not saying they're bad at all, everything fits well, but they're just not as.. Animated.
Overall Impression — 8
I'm gonna say it's one of Opeth's worst albums. I wouldn't even say that's a controversial statement, I feel it lacks at so many points. But that doesn't mean there aren't any good points about it. Yes, structurally it's a mess, but after 9 albums of solid progressive death metal they deserved to make a change and not give a shit about what anyone else thinks. They've been at this since they were teenagers and now that they're close to their 40s I can't blame them for wanting to do something different, even if it means that the reaction is at most favourable. The things I love about the album are the fact they they HAVE done something different and just about pulled it off. It stands pretty well amongst Opeth's previous albums as well as an album on its own. It just goes to show how unbeatable Opeth are as musicians and that barriers are there to be broken; it only makes you a better band if you dare to push those boundaries, and even better if you pull it off well. If I lost it, I'd probably buy it again, but not one of those big collector's editions or anything.