Sound — 9
For album (or observation, as the band likes to call them) number 10, Opeth tap even deeper into frontman Mikael Akerfeldt's affinity for 60's & 70's prog, drawing from a pool of influences as diverse as Swedish folk music to the late great Ronnie James Dio. The warm, distinctly 70s analogue sound captured on "Heritage" is due in no small part to the return of long time collaborator & Porcupine Tree mainman Steven Wilson for the first time since the "Deliverance" & "Damnation" sessions, who once again lends his remarkable talents to take charge of the album's mixing, and he does a superb job. The instantly noticeable thing about "Heritage" (besides the lack of growled vocals & abundance of 70's prog & fusion worship), is the remarkable dynamic range captured by the analogue recording techniques used during production, meaning every instrument is instantly recognizable in the mix, with the album not succumbing to the loudness war like many of it's contemporaries. Though all songwriting was as usual handled by Akerfeldt, "Heritage" is clearly the work of a focused & formidable quintet, with every instrumentalist bringing something unique to the table, none more impressive than drummer Martin Axenrot's busy jazz-influenced fills & Martin Mendez's always complimentary basslines. While it is by now no surprise "Heritage" was never intended to be a metal album (with growled vocals absent entirely for the first time since "Damnation"), a strong metal influence is felt throughout the album on key tracks, none more upfront than the blistering Slither', its soaring lead lines very reminiscent of Ritchie Blackmore's work in Deep Purple & Rainbow, the song itself being a tribute to former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Elsewhere, jazzy piano opener "Heritage" helps set the scene for explosive first single "The Devil's Orchard", with other standouts being "The Lines In My Hands", revealed by Akerfeldt as the first song he completed for the album, and stunning instrumental close "Marrow Of The Earth". While containing enough highlights to make this another worthwhile outing, with some of the material easily ranking among the band and Akerfeldt's best, instrumental meandering plagues certain songs on the album, "Nepenthe" & "Haxprocess" being the main offenders, as well as a number of poorly constructed transitions, carrying on from the sometimes jarring transitions on their previous effort, 2008's "Watershed". While these are but minor complaints for an otherwise stellar album, "Heritage" is an album that will take a few listens to fully sink in, and certainly won't be to everyone's taste.
Lyrics — 8
Having announced early on during the recording of the album that growled vocals would be completely absent for the first time since 2003's "Damnation", Mikael Akerfeldt's always improving clean vocals have arguably reached their peak on a few of the album's tracks, a standout vocally being the acoustic first half of "I Feel The Dark". Retaining the imagery-laden approach of past efforts, Akerfeldt's ever imaginative lyrics also reach a career high on "Heritage", announcing that "God is dead" on first single "The Devil's Orchard", a song lyrically every bit as intense as past efforts, including, among others, the epic "Blackwater Park" & "Harlequin Forest".
Overall Impression — 9
Approached with an open mind, "Heritage' will certainly prove a rewarding listen for most experienced fans of the band, an album containing all the signature twists & turns that has become Opeth's trademark, albeit in a way totally new for the band. "Heritage" is arguably the band's 10th magnum opus in it's now 20 plus year career, and without a doubt represents the grandest vision yet captured on an Opeth album.