Prog-rock, or progressive rock, can be a very slippery slope. Though usually packed with musicianship, the line between progressive and disjointed remains incredibly thin. Taking that slippery slope and adding the deep winter ice layer of “metal” makes the whole task often insurmountable. Enter Opeth, a band that’s been pushing ahead with their particular brand of extreme music for ten years now, often with great results. To celebrate their tenth studio album Opeth have released Heritage, an album that is a massive departure from their more common metal roots. Lead songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt has long said that the world of extreme music and linear songwriting has grown dull and so Heritage will be something completely different. He was correct on that point, Heritage is very different. So, does it work?
The answer largely depends on how much you revere Opeth for their past and how open minded you can be. History has shown that metal heads (along with punk rockers and pretty much anyone dedicated to a scene) are mostly narrow-minded simpletons who long for their band to repeat themselves over and over. For those folks, Heritage will be reason to cry through their corpse paint and set fire to their Opeth back patches. This is an album that, for it’s flaws, is pretty fearless. Akerfeldt and his crew have created an odyssey, a long form journey through what they’ve done before but filtered through a new direction. The songs have no growls and few manic riffs. Instead the vocals are epic and narrative, as if Akerfeldt is relaying some larger than life tale. The music is filled with dynamics and odd time signatures. Keyboards play a big part in what’s going on with Heritage, as does Swedish folk and the haunting of bands like Jethro Tull and Can.
Kicking off with a wonderful piano intro, Heritage wastes no time in displaying Opeth’s new ideas. “The Devil’s Orchard” blends a seventies prog-rock vibe with some swinging jazz tempos. Akerfeldt’s vocals are sweeping, as if he did the entire song on one knee with his hand raised to the metal gods. Is it melodramatic? Sure. That doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Coming down from that, “I Feel The Dark” is a mellow acoustic number, where soft guitar lines and acid-rock keyboards lift you up and transport you to some other place. This is definitely an album that calls for the left-handed cigarette. I could have done without the sudden and jarring “rock” parts, but otherwise I dug “I Feel The Dark” a lot.
“Slither” is a more straight-ahead number, though it never leaves the seventies prog-rock nest. “Nepenthe” is one of my favorite tracks because it’s just a spacey instrumental number with very little actual form. The problems with Heritage stem mostly from Opeth losing the focus of what they’re trying to achieve. While their foray into more acoustic and spacey music is appreciated, they tend to get lost in it. “Haxprocess” should not have followed “Nepenthe”, it just saps the energy of the record and “Famine” is a mess of ideas that never gel correctly. Heritage rights itself before ending, but it never fully recovers, leaving listeners with the idea that the record needed some more thought behind it or at least the songs needed to simmer a bit more before being recorded.
Heritage isn’t perfect, not by a long shot, but it is to be applauded. Anytime a band tells the genre to go screw itself because said band is more interested in doing some real music, that’s a win for creativity. After ten years Opeth have opted to grow outward instead of complacent. Heritage has some growing pains and will probably alienate older fans but it’s a record that shows the future is bright for Opeth.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING 7/10