Opeth Heritage- 2011
RMR Album Rating- 6 (Good)
I will offer some advice to Opeth fans before listening to Heritage. Think of it as a debut album from an entirely new band because it sounds nothing like any previous Opeth album.
However, Opeth gave us fair warning of this change. Opeth has been around for almost 20-years, and they have grown more progressive with each of the 9 albums leading up to Heritage (their 10th studio release), which for me was a good thing. Starting with Blackwater Park, I thought their releases were getting better and better as they grew more progressive. I think they peaked with Ghost Reveries and plateaued with Watershed, so I think Åkerfeldt felt like it was time for a major change, and he stated in many interviews that Heritage would be a complete departure from Opeth’s past sound. But, even with this fair warning, I don’t think I was prepared for how different the album would actually be. I was expecting and really hoping for another Ghost Reveries or Watershed without growls, as Åkerfeldt had stated on many occasions that the album would feature only clean vocals. Well, Heritage has nothing in common with either of those albums. So as I stated, my best advice is to treat Heritage as a debut album from a new band and erase any preconceived notions of what Opeth should sound like. If can you do that, it will certainly open your mind to the album’s sound and improve your listening experience.
So, with all that being said, what does Heritage sound like?
First, and as mentioned, there are no growls, and Åkerfeldt sings in all clean vocals, which I knew before the album was released, and I like this change. However, I will say that I had come to enjoy Åkerfeldt’s growls on their previous records and the juxtaposition of his growls and clean vocals made for very heavy, yet very calming music at the same time, and I really enjoyed that dynamic of Opeth’s first 9 albums.
In terms of instrumentation, the signature drum blasts from Martin Mende are almost completely gone (with a few exceptions) and are replaced with very jazzy drumming. Then, there’s the issue of Åkerfeldt’s guitar playing. I always thought Åkerfeldt’s metal guitar tone was extremely unique and almost inimitable. Unfortunately, on Heritage, his trademark guitar sound has been mostly traded in for an acoustic/ folky guitar sound, which he has always played and incorporated on past records, but it has never been his primary guitar tone. I will point out that there are still some heavy guitar parts to this album, but they definitely take a back seat to other styles of playing. So, the lack of growls, the jazzy drumming, and the folky guitar are absolutely major changes, but the biggest change for me (and the most disappointing) is the almost complete disappearance of their seamless time signature and pacing changes. Unlike any other band, Opeth were the kings at flawlessly alternating back and forth seamlessly between heavy and soft moments, fast and slow moments, and metal and clam moments, and that component of their music is almost completely absent on Heritage.
In terms of songs, there are 10-tracks on the official release. The album’s first track is a soft piano instrumental interlude, and the final track is also an instrumental piece. The 8-tracks that fall in between the opener and closer really all run together, and there are very few songs or moments that really stand out. I will say that this album is better while you are playing it, but it has very few memorable sections, and there are almost no hooks; therefore, it doesn’t stick with you when it’s not playing, which for me is really the measure of a great album— one that I want to keep returning to for more listens.
There are some highlights, though. “I Feel the Dark” has a nice folky progressive build up, and then at about the three-minute mark, the song transitions to a heavy guitar sequence; however, this transition is not seamless, and it almost sounds forced. This doesn’t make the song bad, and it is one of the best tracks on the record, but it’s certainly not groundbreaking either. “Slither” also stands out, as it is easily the heaviest and fastest song on the album. The rest of the record is overly lethargic, so the speed of “Slither” offers a nice change of pace.
Click here to listen to I Feel the Dark
Click here to listen to Slither
The real centerpiece of the album is “Famine.” It starts off with a strange combination of random sounds all mixed together; then it slows down to a very soft piano section, which is followed by Åkerfeldt’s best vocal section of the album:
I can’t see your face/ And I can’t breathe your air/ So I wonder why I get cold inside/ When I hear your name
These lyrics are delivered at an overtly slow and calm pace, and the effect is incredibly moving. Then there is a dramatic pace change and one of the few drum blasts on the album, which is layered over very heavy guitar work from Åkerfeldt. The song concludes with great flute work, which gives it an interesting Jethro Tull feel, and this part of the song sounds like it would fit perfectly on Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. On a side note, Åkerfeldt actually contacted Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull to see if he would play the flute parts, but Anderson never responded; nonetheless, the flute parts are a great addition to the song, and “Famine” is easily the best song on the album. (Click here to listen to Famine)
I had really high hopes for this album, but it just didn’t live up to my expectation, and even if I take my own advice and treat it as a debut album from a new band, it still isn’t top shelf work. Personally, I am fine with Opeth changing direction, and I love that they have headed so deep into the progressive rock realm, but they are just not excelling in this new style yet.
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