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Opeth: Heritage

In my review of Watershed three years ago, I predicted that the follow-up to this album would present a better picture as to where Mikael Akerfeldt wanted to be musically, and Heritage has proven this prediction to have been correct.

No aspect of this album can be called metal, and I doubt any band member would present it as such. Heritage is radically different from its predecessors in shape, sound, and direction. The death vocals and heavy riffing have completely vanished, which will definitely please or disappoint a lot of fans depending on their preferences. In their place, the band builds complex songs that are rhythmically evolved with exquisite drumming. Martin Axenrot takes on a jazzy feel throughout the whole album, accenting the most critical beats during the songs. What many thought was gone for good after the departure of former drummer Martin Lopez is re-established with Axenrot's special attention to groove and detail.

Like all of Opeth's albums, Heritage proves to be an extremely rewarding listen as its internal complexities unfold. The amount of detail to be found in the songs is amazing. Due to Steven Wilson's ingenious mix, the compositions are rife with nuance. I discovered Per Wiberg's creepy keyboards repeating Akerfeldt's vocal melody on "I Feel the Dark" and the very distant vocal hooks during the instrumental part of "Nepenthe" after giving the album many spins. This being Wiberg's swan song with Opeth, I particularly enjoyed his use of a wider palette of sounds, adding textures and atmospheres to the songs like never before. He is the reason why Heritage has become one of Opeth's darkest and most atmospheric statements.

There are no individual riffs or themes that need to be highlighted; everything works to the perfection of the songs. There is a different level of cohesion between the instruments here. Apart from Axenrot's already mentioned drumming, the bass is central in the sound of this album. In the past, when Mendez put down his lines, they didn't always survive in the mix, partly due to the extreme density of the arrangements. On Heritage, his sound is larger and more focused. He covers a broad spectrum of sound colours, enhancing the guitar solos as well as laying down his own leads. "The Lines in My Hand" wraps a twisted bass solo into the tension-filled composition, thanks to the Mellotron swells in the mix. On the extremely haunting "Nepenthe," complete with deep background voices and excellent percussion, Mendez underscores the charging guitar solo, which suggests suppressed emotions breaking free due to the tense silence that precedes it.

Though all songs are great, "Folklore" is one of the standouts. Some fans have complained about the lack of distinct melodies on the album. "Folklore" should please them from start to finish. It harbours indelible melodic contructs with the album's best instrumental break embedded within. Again the bass sound simply coheres better than on any prior release, and Mikael Akerfeldt's vocals at the end are achingly beautiful, not to mention the super-tight drumming. Actually, on this album, Akerfeldt's performance is uniformly stunning. The guitar solo at the end of "Haxprocess" is his most restrained yet emotionally charged solo ever (possibly a single take, too, given it'd sound forced and unnatural otherwise). The shift from Mellotron sounds to the pronounced acoustic passage on this song suggests it was culled from the same material on Damnation due to the way the vocals are applied (think the clean vocals on Blackwater Park) and the whole song is built to its climax.

This may not be a metal album per se, but some of the songs do groove relentlessly. By now, pretty much any fan must have heard "The Devil's Orchard," which uses Nietzche's "God is dead!" line in the lyrics as its chorus to underscore the King Crimson-like instrumental moments. But there is more: "Slither" is a song in memory of Ronnie James Dio and it features a tightly locked groove over which the band lays down coiling guitar melodies. To achieve compositional diversity, the band uses discreet flute sounds, ethnic percussion, and gorgeous pianos on "Famine," one of their most complex tunes seething with emotional breadth. The contribution of Peruvian Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist Alex Acuna is immense, and the transition from the atmospheric parts to hard-hitting passages eclipses just about any song they have written in this style. The only problem with this song is that it ends.

The two instrumental songs, "Heritage" and "Marrow of the Earth," open and close the album respectively. While "Heritage" is comprised by a wonderful Grand piano theme (played by guest musician Joakim Svalberg), "Marrow of the Earth" is more comprehensive as it brings forth acoustic guitars, light-as-air drums, and Mellotron sounds. The band applies small variations to the central themes, and the resulting melody sticks with you for days on end.

Steven Wilson's stereo mixing is top drawer and puts the album in the league of the best in terms of sonic clarity. Travis Smith's artwork is very fitting for the songs on this album, and the black-and-white pictures in the booklet are awesome. You definitely need the whole package.

Anyone expecting this to be a metal album is likely to be disappointed. The album might fall short for those who love Opeth for their relentlessly heavy side with gut-wrenching death growls, but those willing to explore the group's more experimental side and give it the chance it deserves will definitely be rewarded.

Heritage is a slow-burning masterpiece. Its vision and its power are timeless.

Track Listing

  1. Heritage
  2. The Devil's Orchard
  3. I Feel the Dark
  4. Slither
  5. Nepenthe
  6. Haxprocess
  7. Famine
  8. The Lines in My Hand
  9. Folklore
  10. Marrow of the Earth

Added: October 27th 2011
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Opeth website
Hits: 6070
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Opeth: Heritage
Posted by Keith Hannaleck, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-10-27 09:43:13
My Score:

Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitar, lead vocals), Martin Mendez (bass), Fredrik Åkesson (guitar), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Joakim Svalberg (keyboards) are Opeth.

It has been a long time since I sat down and reviewed an Opeth album (Lamenations: Live at Shepherd's Bush Empire-2004). They have always been one of those bands that made Death Metal livable. That dynamic along with the fact that they are incredibly talented musicians that can make ferocious progressive rock and beautiful passages all within minutes of each other in one song has made them a favorite of mine. In fact, they literally define the term progressive in every sense of the word.

It has been a long wait for the next Opeth opus. Watershed was released in 2008 so the band's fans were more than ready for this new release, but did they know what was in store? Several years ago I mentioned in a review that I thought all the from-the-belly growling was unnecessary because Mikael Akerfeldt has a great voice and one fitting for rockers and the ability to carry the beauty of softer soundscapes to another place. I still don't get the growling thing and probably never will but have accepted the fact that it is part of the style and genre. That being said Heritage (engineered by Steven Wilson) was a welcome addition to my collection because the band decided to leave the growling behind for the first time and let Akerfeldt lend his golden pipes to their complex and intriguing compositions. I would think the Death Metal fans out there will be disappointed with what they will hear on this release however if they are hardcore Opeth fans and appreciate excellent music; they will forgive them and enjoy this presentation and everything it has to offer.

So if it is no longer Progressive Death Metal what do we call it now? I think simply Progressive Rock fits the bill with influences of psychedelic and even some jazz rudiments thrown in for texture and flavor. Metal is no longer a prevailing influence but it finds its place when necessary throughout this release to remind you from whence they came. Although many of the lyrics would have worked on previous albums this is very different with a lot of acoustic guitars and other elements that makes you forget you are actually listening to Opeth sometimes and that is the cool thing about this. "The Devil's Orchard," depicted in a cool 3D cover on this special edition, spews out lyrics such as "God is dead" and features music that carry those lyrics a long way. "Famine" is an excellent track that starts off with a haunting atmospheric soundtrack then the guitars and the rest of the band kick in while the lead vocals sound like they are more in the background echoing and pleading for release. It's an effect that works. Primarily this is music that is very cerebral, it is in constant flux and things like flutes come in accompanied by an ominous guitar line like in "Famine," reminding one of Jethro Tull in their prime although Tull was never this heavy musically or lyrically. This kind of music will not leave you alone, it forces you to pay attention as you wait for the next change or lyric that is going to come snapping at you to make you think even more.

This particular Special Edition was quite an experience. It offers the listener a stereo and 5.1 surround sound version which is simply enthralling to put it mildly. I have always appreciated Opeth for various reasons but have never been enamored with them. I think that is about to change as I hear this music more, the more I find an appreciation of what a tremendous accomplishment this recording is and the complexity and beauty of the music is astounding. The packaging emulates the LP gatefold style with a booklet in the middle and a second tray holding the bonus DVD which has the surround version of the album with several bonus tracks, most notably "Pyre" and "Face In The Snow," which are also offered as free downloads from the band's site. The video portion of the DVD starts off with Akerfeldt explaining how the album took shape, which was ok but when they actually step in the studio to take you through the recording process they decide to start speaking in their native tongue because it was the best way to present this…wrong answer. If you were selling this album exclusively in Sweden that would work, so I am not too sure what they were thinking. After about 10 minutes of subtitles I felt like I was watching a foreign film and that was all she wrote for me. This was a disappointment as I really wanted to continue taking in the studio experience but I just could not deal with the subtitles anymore!


In the end the part of the DVD I did not enjoy took a backseat because the music was so incredible. Opeth have created a true masterpiece and what makes it even more prolific is the fact that they changed their style entirely and took a huge chance. Nice work gents you looked at the possibility of failure square in the eye and gave it the proverbial finger and kicked some major arse on Heritage. This is evidence of their total confidence in their abilities and proof once again what outstanding musicians they are regardless of what type of music they produce.

Opeth: Heritage
Posted by Jeff B, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-09-25 20:08:10
My Score:

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.


» Reader Comments:

Opeth: Heritage
Posted by Gino B. on 2011-09-17 12:39:29
My Score:

I couldn't disagree more with your 5 stars for this album. I took DEEP multiple listens to try and get into it and I just could not. I love Opeth and that includes their soft side, as well as their heavy side. I knew that this new cd was going to be different and, being a fan of 70's psychadelic rock, i was looking forward to the new style, especially after hearing "Devil's orchard".....a great song.

But when I heard this rest of this cd, I was extremely disappointed in the song writing. Yes, there are some GREAT ideas all over the place and throughout.....but the song writing is disjointed and not well put together. There's lots of tease only to drop into boredome. Some songs start well then go nowhere.

This could easily have been a great album worthy of 5 stars but it's not, in my opinion. Mikael could do alot better....and I have read many reviews where people say, "you just didn't understand it". Sorry....that's nonsense. Music is meant to be enjoyed and everybody has their personal taste.




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