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Opeth - Heritage CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.82 | 1183 ratings

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4 stars Since their formation back in 1990, Swedish progressive death metal band Opeth have never been a stranger to experimentation. After establishing themselves as one of the most unique bands on the metal scene with Orchid and Morningrise, the band constantly pushed the boundaries of their sound with every new release. 2003's Damnation even saw Mikael Åkerfeldt's brainchild abandon all of their metal influences in favor of a mellow progressive rock sound. Heritage, the tenth studio album from these extreme progressive metal legends, is sure to be met with more controversy than any of their previous releases. Not only has the band entirely shifted away from their death metal roots, but they've seemingly abandoned their melancholic and bleak style of progressive rock as well. Unlike Damnation - an album that had Opeth's trademark sound all over it - Heritage is a radical departure from everything we've come to expect from the band. This is retro 70's progressive rock in its purest form, and whether or not it is enjoyable entirely depends on the listener. Don't expect any growls, death metal sections, or crushing dynamics of their earlier releases - if you come into this album expecting a progressive death metal masterpiece, you'll be in for the disappointment of a lifetime. I personally miss the bleak atmospheres, crushingly heavy death metal portions, and light/dark dynamics of their previous releases, but there's no denying that Heritage is an exceptional observation.

The most important thing to mention when discussing Heritage is that it is not an easy album to get into. The compositions (for me, at least) initially felt rather disjointed and lifeless, and the true beauty of the pieces didn't begin to shine through until about seven or eight listens. Even then, Heritage still leaves you with plenty of room to explore the deep soundscapes that Opeth have created. My biggest initial complaint was that all of the songs seem to jump from one section to another without any warning - something that still holds true even with a greater understanding of the album, but things do eventually begin to make more sense. The seemingly random electric piano lick in "Nepenthe", for example, does eventually feel less jagged than it does during your first spin of the CD. All of Opeth's albums can be considered "growers" to some extent, but Heritage is possibly their most inaccessible and demanding work to date. The death metal purists may dismiss this album after a mere few listens, but people looking for a deep musical experience should make sure they give Heritage all of the attention it deserves before reaching any conclusions.

The album begins with the tranquil acoustic piano title track that segues right into the heavy progressive rock of "The Devil's Orchard". This song kicks things off in high gear, and is filled with complex riffs, soaring Hammond organs, and jazzy drumming. King Crimson is a very obvious point of reference on this track - very different from anything Opeth have done before. The highlights of Heritage are the very moody "I Feel the Dark", the fusion- influenced "Nepenthe", the stunning "Haxprocess" (one of my favorite Opeth tracks of all time), the epic "Folklore", and beautiful instrumental track "Marrow of the Earth". "Slither" is a more straightforward heavy metal piece, and sounds like something straight off of a Deep Purple or Ronnie James Dio album. The fast riffs, soaring Hammond organ, and blinding guitar solo characterize this song until the serene acoustic outro begins. "Famine" is the longest track on the album, and features a rather eclectic mix of sections - just listen to that Jethro Tull-influenced flute section in the middle! I find this to be the most incoherent song on the album, but it isn't without its strong points either. "The Lines in My Hand" is a shorter track that features some nice keyboard playing from Per Wilberg and excellent vocal work from Mikael Åkerfeldt.

From a purely objective point of view, Heritage is one of the most impressive Opeth albums to date. The sheer strength of the musicianship and the retro-sounding production show a band at the top of their game, and the strong music to go along with it makes this one hell of an album. The first two things that jump out to me when we're talking about the musicianship are the remarkable retro keyboard tones from Per Wilberg and the jazz- influenced drumming from Martin Axenrot. Both deliver the performances of their careers on Heritage - it's a bit of a shame that Per Wilberg parted ways with Opeth shortly prior to the album's release. Martin Mendez's fluid bass playing is also excellent, and Mikael Åkerfeldt and Frederik Åkesson's dual guitar work is spectacular. The acoustic guitar sections are especially impressive here.

So there you have it - one of the most controversial albums in 2011, but also one of my favorites. Opeth may have abandoned a large portion of their fanbase with Heritage, but this just shows that these guys are always willing to experiment with new sounds and never succumb to treading on previously covered territory. Fans of retro progressive rock will find plenty to love here, and I think the more open-minded metalheads should be entertained as well. Opeth have really taken a risk with Heritage, and I'd say that they've succeeded for the most part. These Swedish legends have done much better than this throughout their twenty-plus year career, but there's no doubt that it is an excellent addition to their catalog. 4 stars are very well-deserved in this case. I do hope that Opeth eventually returns to making bleak progressive death metal, but as a one-off experiment, Heritage is a refreshing change of pace.

J-Man | 4/5 |


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