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Saturday, 17 September 2011

REVIEW: Opeth - Heritage [2011]


So here is the album on which Akerfeldt has finally dropped his harsh vocals. This may have come as a surprise, but Opeth’s progression over the years (from fairly standard death/doom on albums like Orchid and My Arms, Your Hearse to ever more progressive styles on later albums, really starting with Still Life but coming into full swing by its follow-up, Blackwater Park) should have made it clear that this was going to happen.

Indeed, not only has he limited himself to clean vocals, but nearly all semblances of metallic riffs are gone. This is, in essence, a progressive rock album – and it goes 70s all the way (which is evident from the awful artwork alone) – although this may please fans of retro-rock, it is almost undeniable that instruments like the mellotron haven't been used in rock or metal for a long time because they do not fit with modern production values, and either drift into the background or stick out like a sore thumb. This is indeed something which afflicts Heritage – the balance is rarely correct, as the... thing seems to hold a very consistent volume throughout the louder and quieter parts of the album which creates a fantastic feat in being able to take the worst ailments of two extremes and combining them.

This is exacerbated by the sheer lack of interest in which the instrument is used – the way Opeth use it, one would think it had a range in pitch of 6 or 7 semitones. Unfortunately, all the other instruments are treated in the same way – despite their descent in quality (which, over the last few albums, has been rather rapid), one of Opeth’s strengths has always been creating instrumental parts which are compositionally intriguing. This is gone. Simply slipped away to whatever far away planet Opeth have left their inspiration at between albums.

This wouldn’t be a problem – indeed, many bands write interesting music with little or no tonality – but the riffs, while complex, simply have no staying power with the listener. No riff like the opener of ‘The Grand Conjuration’, no riff like those in ‘Demon Of The Fall’, simply nothing. This is inexcusable – not just for a metal album (which this quite plainly is not), but for any rock album whatsoever. The only remotely memorable riff is that which opens ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ – at least the band seem to know which strong material to premiere before the album’s release.

That’s not to say that this is not quite clearly an Opeth album – the vocals should be a clue, but the key pointer should be the meandering middle sections, which often span several minutes. This is generally a good idea in progressive rock, but these sections are applied so liberally that individual songs often cease to have any reasonable form or structure. Those who would defend the album (and several have told me this already) claim that it is ‘classically informed’. Is it fuck. Whilst yes, classical music may share the preponderance to expand over a length of time, it is key to note one point – that when it is done in classical composition, it tends to at least have some motif or other recurring theme upon which variations are done, rather than disjointedly breaking from one section into another – a curse which Opeth seem not to be able to rid themselves of.

I’m sure that the aforementioned lack of harsh vocals will end up being the main talking point about this album, and there’s a good reason why. Whilst I have praised Akerfeldt’s work in Bloodbath, and indeed earlier Opeth, that is purely for his harshes. They have a richness to them, amplified by the warm production on those albums, which make them a joy to listen to. By comparison, and indeed by comparison to most vocalists, his cleans fall well short. They’re not unlistenable, but purely lacklustre. They sound as though there is no effort being put into them, and thus emotionless.

Simply put, this album is Damnation part 2. The least critically acclaimed album in Opeth’s back catalogue, essentially replicated, but somehow they’ve managed to remove all the parts which made even that album the least bit palatable along the way. Sadly, Akerfeldt is resolute in his direction, and I really doubt now, moreso than ever before, that Opeth will ever release another good album.

The link is from http://thetroopersofmetal.blogspot.com/

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