Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Opeth - Heritage (Collector’s Edition)

Heritage (Collector’s Edition)
Roadrunner Records/Warner Music Australia

Each and every album from Opeth has seen the band try something new and push their sound into uncharted territory. In doing so, the Swedish group’s nine full-length releases have shown a gradual transformation from one album to the next, seeing a band that started out as a progressive death metal act grow into something far more unique and individual through incorporating a greater ‘70’s progressive rock influence into their sound. While some of the Opeth’s releases have fared better than others amongst their fan base, there are few that could honestly say that the band had released anything below the impeccable standard they set for themselves, which has meant that while a new Opeth may not be viewed as one of their strongest, you could always count on the album being a strong release nonetheless.
Three years after the release of their critically acclaimed ‘Watershed’ release, Opeth (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist/pianist Mikael Åkerfeldt, guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, bassist Martín Méndez, keyboardist Per Wiberg and drummer Martin Axenrot) are back with their highly anticipated tenth album ‘Heritage’.
In the lead up to the album, Åkerfeldt went to great lengths to explain to fans that ‘Heritage’ was an album that would see the band fully embrace their progressive rock tendencies, and that the album wouldn’t feature any of his trademark growls. In other words, ‘Heritage’ was always going to be a radical departure from what you would normally expect of an Opeth album.
Many (Not unlike myself) assumed that ‘Heritage’ would see the band produce something that would be a mix of ‘Damnation’ (2003) and ‘Ghost Reveries’ (2005), but with a greater progressive edge. Surprisingly, ‘Heritage’ is nothing of the sort, and instead sounds completely different to any preconceived expectations one may have had.
Unfortunately, ‘Heritage’ isn’t an entirely successful experiment, and sadly disappoints more than not. The album starts off with the piano (Performed by Joakim Svalberg) instrumental title track ‘Heritage’. Although short, and quite downbeat, the track does provide a great introduction to the album. The follow on track ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ (The first single from the album) immediately reveals the direction Opeth are going to take listeners within ‘Heritage’, and it’s well and truly a retro inspired progressive rock direction. The band’s signature complex riffs are still very much used here, and Åkerfeldt’s melodies are as stunning as ever. Wiberg’s greater presence on the keyboards and the thicker tones on the guitars help give the song a strong progressive vibe, and the instrumental passages really showcase the sparseness of sound instrumentally the band were aiming for with the album. But while the song has some really strong points, it also has some serious weaknesses. The song doesn’t really seem to flow all that well (Which means that some of the ideas seem to be thrown in, without making sure they fit into the song), and some of the more atmospheric instrumental moments don’t really add that much to the song as a whole.
Initially, ‘I Feel The Dark’ starts off in promising manner, with the gentle acoustics and Åkerfeldt’s captivating vocals lulling the listener in. But for all its promise, the same problems that plagued the former tracks come into play. This time around, the introduction of the heavy riffs around the half way mark are so out of place it kind of feels like two songs were amalgamated into the one, which again leaves you with the impression that while the song has some great ideas, some should have been set aside and developed into a completely different song.
‘Slither’ (Which is supposedly a tribute to Ronnie James Dio) is for the most part one of the more familiar Opeth styled song on offer throughout ‘Heritage’, and also one of the more thought out and complete sounding tracks. In contrast, ‘Nepenthe’ is one of the album’s more progressive and daring tracks, with some of the instrumental middle sections taking on more of a jazz feel at times. The song also feels a little more structured than others too, which earns its place as one of the album’s stronger efforts.
Unfortunately, while the same said jazz and progressive influences are carried through to ‘Häxprocess’, the strength of song writing doesn’t. The instrumental start seems a little lost and lacking direction, and fails to leave an impression on me. It isn’t until halfway through the song that a genuine song emerges, and sure enough, it’s a great one at that. Why the band decided to pad the song at either end with directionless, meandering and overly long instrumental passages is beyond me. The same problem occurs in the lengthy ‘Famine’, where the first three minutes seems to be made up of two mismatched musical ideas (A percussive heavy instrumental and a piano piece with Åkerfeldt’s gently crooning over the top) before the real meat of the song really gets underway.
‘The Lines In My Hand’ is an interesting twist on the staple Opeth sound, with the keyboards taking the lead and the guitars reduced to simply playing the rhythm. But while the idea is an interesting one, the disjointed patches of song writing here make for a confusing listen, and ultimately disappoints.
Finishing up the album is the lengthy ‘Folklore’ (Which is another track that seems to incorporate two distinctly different songs, with the latter half one of the album’s serious great moments) and the closing acoustic instrumental ‘Marrow Of The Earth’ (Which isn’t quite as engaging as the opener).
On the special edition version of ‘Heritage’, the bonus D.V.D. comes with a 5.1 surround mix of the album, along with two bonus tracks. The acoustic based ‘Pyre’ is a great track, and boasts a bit more of the traditional Opeth sound with some great melodic (Electric) lead work, retro keyboard sounds and intricate acoustic guitar structures, while ‘Face In The Snow’ is a sombre mellow tune that could have easily been lifted from Opeth’s last couple of releases. Both tracks are understandably absent from ‘Heritage’ because of the difference in style, but are stronger in song writing and more thought out than anything heard on the album.
Rounding out the D.V.D. is the fifty-eight minute ‘Making Of Heritage’ documentary, where Åkerfeldt explains how the material took shape prior to entering the studio, before giving the viewer an insider’s view of the band recording the album. The documentary is an interesting look into the inner mechanics behind the making of ‘Heritage’, and worthy of checking out. The only real negative is that most of the dialogue is subtitled, which could at times be a bit draining.
Ultimately, while ‘Heritage’ isn’t a terrible album per say, it is a flawed effort. I can understand what the band was trying to achieve, and in some places, they achieved their objective (Especially in the musical sense). Unfortunately, some of the songs have too many ideas, or too many shifts in moods, which leaves the songs feeling disjointed and pieced together unnecessarily.
Opeth has never been afraid to challenge their audience through experimentation and pushing the boundaries of fans’ predetermined opinions of what makes up the typical Opeth sound. Sadly, ‘Heritage’ is an experiment that doesn’t quite work, and instead only sounds confused and scattered, both for the band and the listener.

For more information on Opeth, check out - http://www.opeth.com/

© Justin Donnelly