Sound — 9
Mikael Åkerfeldt is the only founding member remaining in the band, having been a member since 1990 when he was only 16 years old. Since that time there have been several lineup changes, as well as changes in the sound and direction of the band. The band was initially considered a black metal or death metal band, but over time took on influences from numerous genres of music. "Pale Communion" will only be the third album by the band not to include some death metal growls for vocals. There are 8 tracks on the album, with a run time of a little over 55 minutes. The album was released on the Roadrunner Records label. The lead single from the album was "Cusp of Eternity," which was released in June. The album was mixed by Steven Wilson and produced by Mikael Åkerfeldt.
The album opens up with the track "Eternal Rains Will Come," which immediately brings to mind '70s progressive rock with the organ parts in the music. Specifically, the intro kind of calls to mind the album "Tarkus" by the band ELP, but Opeth pretty quickly puts their own stamp on it. The song evolves with a non-traditional song structure and uses harmonized and processed vocals to great effect. The song also has one of my favorite guitar solos I've heard from Opeth for a while - not for technical skill, but just for how suited it was to the track. Next was "Cusp of Eternity," which was also the lead single from the album and is on the heavier side as far as the album is concerned, though still nowhere near even a prog metal sound, but still squarely in the realm of prog rock. There is more in the way of a "wailing" guitar solo on this track. "Moon Above, Sun Below" is another track that sounds like it could have come from a time machine from the '70s, which is a plus to me - I love the progressive music from that era. "Elysian Woes" has acoustic guitar and strings in the intro with very melodic clean singing. "Goblin" is up next, and is essentially a four and a half minute instrumental masterpiece. "River" opens up with an acoustic guitar and harmonized vocals almost in a falsetto range. The song builds up to include more layered instrumentation and melodies and the non-traditional song structure keeps the whole thing interesting. There are passages that sound like foot stomping rock and other passages that sound like acoustic folk music. "Voice of Treason" is a more modern sounding track from the album, though it still doesn't venture into the realm of being "metal," it has a sinister edge to it. The album closes out with the track "Faith in Others," which has a very ELP or possibly Moody Blues type of vibe to it. Personally, I love all of the organ and strings used on the album. Also, Steven Wilson and Mikael Åkerfeldt did an excellent job of avoiding over-compressing the album.
Lyrics — 9
Mikael Åkerfeldt has been vocalist for Opeth since way back in the early days in 1992. There are no death growls here, or even the whispered clean vocals of some of his earlier releases, but instead more melodic soaring clean vocals. The rest of the band provides harmonized backing vocals, and there is some mild studio processing work done on some of the vocals. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the track "Cusp of Eternity": "Child of Autumn was born/ to a world of deceit and then a land of lies/ vagabonds would takes her away/ the star and its stems are lost in eternal sorrow/ she walks across the country/ she holds her head up high in the rain/ mother was screaming for help/ she turns around to stare at a scene from her memory/ she's hiding a wish in her heart/ thrown through a flood of waves that's come from her dreams/ and someone is waiting to see her name/ calling it to his side, the cusp of eternity."
Overall Impression — 9
Opeth has moved a long way from their metal beginnings, or at least temporarily for this album. I can appreciate that they consider themselves a metal band that isn't required to make every song they release a metal song - or in this case an entire album. I was surprised on first hearing this album as I expected something heavier after Mikael Åkerfeldt had described the sound of this album as heavier and sinister sounding. Despite my incorrect expectations the album won me over. Honestly, I can't pick a favorite track as I enjoyed every song on the album. The instrumental, "Goblin," had a big impact on me when I first heard it, so I'm going to name that one my favorite just to name something. I really enjoyed that the album seemed to reach back to that specific '70s era progressive sound and also mix it with elements of modern progressive music.