There are no epic death growls here. Now that we have the obvious out of the way, let’s focus on what this album actually stands for. The album art stands for where Opeth is today in their careers. In a seemingly unfortunate move (though this is hopefully not true) the roots of what the tree grows in stand for “hell” (their death metal past), the skulls on the ground are for the past members, and Per Wiburg’s head is falling off since he left the band as keyboardist shortly after recording Heritage. Could this mean that their death metal influences are over? This new album hints at that.
I like to lie to myself by thinking this is like an “unplugged” version of Opeth. Essentially all death metal elements, not just the growls, are absent here. It alienated me at first and left me a little in shock that it happened, but I also like to think that Opeth has pretty much done everything, so why not try something completely different? It seems that some people forget that Mikael Akerfeldt has an epic singing voice as well as epic death growls, so I embrace the idea of him doing a full album composed solely of singing. But missing the death metal musical elements as well… I think this should have been a side project album of a different name and not released under Opeth. They are hardly the very first band to release an album that alienates the rest of their discography. Metallica, Slayer, The Devil Wears Prada, and Korn are just a few examples of other bands who have done the same, with varying results.
The uncanny resemblance to Jethro Tull hardly seems like an accident. Although Opeth was known to people as a “heavier” version of JT with less flute usage, Heritage is the one that brings this to light. Try listening to “Cross-Eyed Mary” and “Teacher” and see if you can make that correlation for yourself. The jazz upswings used throughout the album are noteworthy of this as well.
The acoustic bridges that were in past albums now have a more prominent role in the album, such as the track “I Feel The Dark.” This was one of the first songs where I thought they were just going to break out and growl that sweet bliss at any moment, but it never happened. It progresses from acoustic guitar and synth strings to bold strokes of electric guitars across the soundscape. If death growls were to be used, the three minute mark in this song would have been utter perfection. From there, it goes into an almost stoner metal vibe.
For a change of pace (as if that wasn’t already going on), “Slither” is a full-on rock/metal song not too unlike Led Zeppelin. Let that set in for a minute and digest. It has a sense of 1970s nostalgic value that is actually quite surprising to me that they can pull it off and still make it sound like an Opeth song. Akerfeldt’s voice is as powerful as ever here, but the music lacks the progressive elements that Opeth pretty much invented and are world renowned for.
Now if Opeth were to come back on their next album and do straight progressive death metal without any singing, then that would throw their fans for a loop and would honestly make them take this album more seriously. This is not an album that should be bashed as much as I’ve seen it (some even stoop to compare it to *gag* Morbid Angel’s latest abomination-in-the-name-of-metal release) and should be looked at for its own merits. Now go listen to “Nepenthe” and feel some of that funk.