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Opeth - Heritage CD (album) cover




Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

3.82 | 1182 ratings

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Andy Webb
Special Collaborator
Retired Admin
3 stars The Dark Trilogy, Part I - Opeth's Heritage

Here it is, Opeth's most controversial release yet, excluding the anomalous Damnation which was hardly an Opeth record at all. Heritage is in one way an incredibly apt name and in another an awful choice. In the first way, this record is essentially a tribute to Mikael Akerfeldt's musical heritage - the music of acts like Camel, King Crimson, and Black Sabbath who formed his early musical tastes and, at least before he discovered a tasty little thing called death metal, dominated his listening experiences. However, in the 90s when death metal made its debut, he spent his time writing illicitly evil music of the far more extreme style. Seventeen years after the release of his new band Opeth's debut record Orchid, though, he changed his mind on the whole thing. While we could see a shift in his musical outlook on 2008's Watershed, the death-ness was still present, so at least most of the hardcore fans were pleased. But what made him drop the growls entirely?

This is no psychoanalysis of Akerfeldt's musical tastes, so I have no definitive answer to that. All I know is that in 2006 Ghost Reveries was released and hailed as one of the most critically acclaimed progressive death metal albums of the last decade, and five years later Opeth released a hard rock album. What happened? How are we supposed to react? Is this even Opeth? In short, Akerfeldt got tired of doing the same thing over nearly 20 years. Fans of the band should recognize that this is simple a progression of the band's style and we should go with it. And is it Opeth? Did you even listen to the damn album? It's got Akerfeldt written all over it! So yes, despite the fact that Opeth has dropped distortion and death growls for overdrive and Hammond, this album is textbook Opeth and should be evaluated as such.

So let's see here, ten tracks ranging from two to eight minutes. Not too bad, although right off the bat we're missing those killer ten-minute killers. We'll live, don't worry. Track one - self-titled - stars off with some nice acoustic piano work. Okay, now I'm getting worried. But wait, Watershed started with the acoustic ballad "Coil" and was kicked off an awesome album. Phew, we'll be fine. After two minutes, in comes the single "The Devils Orchard," and here it begins. Aggressive and classic overdriven riffs as opposed to ferocious distorted chugging, gritty Hammond lines to go along with it, and Mikael already excellent clean vocals with a bit of a, uh, "natural" tone from the lack of studio-fix ups or enhancements. Not a bad thing, although his vocal lines can seem like warbling from time to time. A nice mellow and dark interlude, some Opeth-y Mellotron flutes, eerie guitar lines, and a coda back to some nice overdriven riffs again. Hey, look! A pretty standard playing card for an Opeth song. We're off to a good start.

Fine, I won't go through every song on the album displaying how the music is still Opeth, not a rip off of Camel (whoever says that is just plain wrong), you get the picture. You have your obligatory acoustic lines, diminished-scale riffs, precision drums, quintessential keyboard parts, and Akerfeldt's gruff clean lines, which are quite different from Andrew Latimer's whispered vocal parts. Not a Camel right, right? Right??

Alright, I've drilled into your skull that Heritage is indeed an Opeth album, so I'll actually review it now. And here I'll contradict myself: while of course this is an Opeth album, this music is incredibly stylistically different from their previous material (obviously), so in no way can I evaluate this as if it were part of the tech/extreme genre. This album is an excellent example of modern heavy prog. All the aforementioned qualities of this album come together in an absolutely wonderful way, and with the Opeth stamp and sound in it, it's even better. Akerfeldt had incorporated blues elements in his older material, but it really shines on this album. Riffs are trilled, blues scales are favored over diminished most of the time, and lots of the arrangements are in a far more blues/jazz-fusion oriented way.

However, while the music is interesting and engaging throughout the first half of the album, I can't help but feel a sense of ennui as the tracks of the latter half of the album come. By the time the slow-starting but in-the-end-exciting "Famine" ends, the songs start to get 'samey.' Compositional distinguishability starts to blur, ambience sound the same, and those same tricks from older Opeth songs are used over and over again with a new guitar tone. While of course any Opeth is good Opeth, I can't help but feel that even with the new direction, Akerfeldt is still stuck in the same rut of songwriting. He has a new pallet of sound to paint with, but he only knows one style in which to paint. For a huge Opeth fan, I can enjoy the songs, but at the same time I crave some truly new.

In the end, I'll say it loud and clear: this is a different kind of Opeth album. You won't find any growls or evil riffing, but you'll still find Opeth, dressed in a new outfit. If you're looking for a crazy Swedish 70s prog-fest, look somewhere else, because while this is certainly influenced by that era, this album is not retro prog. Retro although it may sound stylistically, the music is still very modern. However, expect much of the same compositionally, as Akerfeldt has covered no new ground here, and expands on many of the same ideas quite a bit, leading to a bit of a stale sound by the end of the album. In the end, however, this is a solidly good Opeth album. 3+ stars.

Now I've covered the music, what's this whole "dark trilogy" business, you might ask? As most know, this album was mixed by Akerfeldt's best buddy and prog extraordinaire Steven Wilson. The two have been attached at the hip since Opeth's Blackwater Park, and in my opinion Wilson has helped Opeth create some of their absolute best material. In 2011, though they worked together more closely than they ever had before. Within a month of each other both Opeth and Steven Wilson had released albums, and immediately after that, they began collaborating directly on their own mysterious project, Storm Corrosion.

The three albums, the third of which was released half a year after the other two, are intrinsically connected in an interesting way. The three albums are all incredibly dark musically - dark riffs, dark lyrics, dark art, and a darker perspective on each musician's usual material (or at least in Akerfeldt's case a different kind of dark). Interestingly enough, this darkness is sopped up by the prog public, and I would not be surprised if Storm Corrosion tops most prog lists just like Heritage and Grace for Drowning did. An interesting trend, and one that I'm sure the dynamic prog duo will pursue further.

Andy Webb | 3/5 |


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