Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Opeth - Heritage

Polarizing. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I think back on my initial spinning of the new Opeth magnus opus, Heritage. Sure, the die-hards will love it because it’s Opeth, and Mike Akerfeldt could fart and they would feel that it was as if the angels of Heaven were singing enlightenment. Those other Opeth fans who expect every album to sound like the same guttural belches from the album before will loathe the very existence of it. Of course, they also loathed everything after My Arms, Your Hearse because of the clean vocal thing that started creeping its way into the gloom, and probably jumped ship a long time ago. Anyway . . .

Being the Opeth fan, the music fan, that I am, I naturally had to bust out and pick up the deluxe collectors box set of Heritage because . . . if a band is going to put that much effort into the packaging, the least I could do is pick up a copy and bask in the physical splendor of the whole thing. Y’know, embrace the nostalgic youth within and lie back on my floor, paging through the booklet that captures the band laboring away in the studio, letting my eyes dance across the lyrics, reading the liner notes to every song, immersing myself so deep into this thing that I can practically smell the dust and must and the electric tension of the studio as if I were actually there. All the while, the music is fluttering away in the background and becoming the soundtrack for this day and many more after.

When Racer asked me about the album, my first description of it was this: A mixture of Camel and Rainbow, as if being played by Miles Davis. Heritage is a prog-nauts wet dream, and the rock aspects, though farther and fewer between than past outings, still rock harder than most. But the element that caught most by surprise was the jazzy elements of it. Full on fusion-y jazz passages weaving their way through the razor sharp rock guitars and airy progressive movements, and that’s where I’ll say that this album is brilliant. By constantly evolving the sound to something that becomes completely unexpected, Opeth make themselves relevant for today, tomorrow, and well into the future, constantly redefining themselves to satisfy their muse, not the public perception.

Normally, at this point, I would break down my favorite songs from the album, point out the highlights, explain how they moved me, etc. But, in the case of Heritage, I could do that for about five thousand words and there’s really no point. In truth, there are times when it’s flat out difficult to tell if a new song is playing if you’re not watching the LP spinning along (and even that can be difficult because of the ebb and flow of the grooves). So, know this . . . every song has rocking elements with the exception of the title track and the album closer, “Marrow of the Earth”. Both songs are beautiful instrumentals that have great neo-classical and folks elements to them.

The rest of the album is made up of eight tracks (CD and normal LP version) that never exceed nine minutes, with most hovering around the five – six minute mark. And that may be the most fascinating aspect about the songwriting on this one. Heritage is made up of shorter songs, but possibly more complex songs than Opeth’s typical ten to thirteen minute epics. The mellow portions range from the psychedelic to ambient jazz to acoustic folk, the rockin’ portions are heavy in a 70’s metal kind of way . . . distorted guitars with a lot of fuzz, not that razor sharp crunch that we’ve grown accustomed to with the band past outings. The synthesizers throughout the album add a ton of weight that may have disappeared with the lack of guitar crunch, and I mean, these things are Jon Lord heavy. At times, it’s as if Mikael Akerfeldt went to his Deep Purple and Rainbow collections and channeled some of that energy into his writing of Heritage, particularly on the song “Slither”, which was lovingly dedicated to the late, great Ronnie James Dio.

I will say this, of the ten songs on the album, “Haxprocess” and “Folklore” are my personal favorites. They are grand and epic journeys that leave me intoxicated by the instrumental phrasing and the musical flourishes. They’re complex and grandiose tracks, but there’s a more organic, more primal element to these songs (as well as the aforementioned “Slither”) than appeals to me the most. I would have to say it’s the combination of the intricate and the primal passages that make these songs the most intriguing. Epic.

Then, of course, there’s also the two unreleased tracks that came with the collector’s edition box set. “Pyre” and “Face in the Snow” are outstanding, 70’s inspired rock tracks that are much more straight forward than the rest of the material on Heritage, but too good to not be included. I like the way they included them as a part of the package, but not necessarily as part of the album. Solid stuff.

Is this my favorite Opeth album? Far from it. Is it their most ambitious album? At this point, yes. Heritage is to Opeth as Bitches Brew was to Miles Davis. Ground breaking. Avant garde. Unorthodox. Genre bending. Redefining. And like Bitches Brew, it’s damn good. Excellent. Mind bogglingly amazing. Can I listen to it at any given point in the day? Unlikely. The concentration level would be too great. The music is far too complex to simply have in the background because it would beg for attention with every measure or tempo change. And if you were to try and concentrate on it throughout the day, you’d never get anything else done. Do I love it? In short, yes. The songwriting is amazing and the performances are exotic, captivating escapades in sonic exploration.  And, most of all, I can appreciate the artistic endeavor of an album like this. Musician will love it, music connoisseurs will love it, audiophiles will love . . . death metallers and your average rock fans will not. It’s not a metal record. It’s a rock record with a heavy dose of progressive, folk, classical, and jazz elements to it. It’s a mixture of Camel and Rainbow, as if played by Miles Davis. I stand by my initial assessment.

As part of the deluxe package, there’s a DVD documentary on the making of the album. When I’m done here . . . you’ll probably be able to find me in the Ripple Theater.


1 comment:

Dimaension X said...

Yup, I am also loving this phase of Opeth's musical development - should've done away with the growls long ago, but that's just my opinion. Mike A. is immensely talented (though I would NOT clap at his farts), and hopefully will continually develop and grow.

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