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Album of the Month: Opeth – ‘Heritage’

28 September, 2011

I’m aware that I haven’t actually done an ‘album of the month’ post for a while, so this isn’t really a monthly thing. As September comes to an end though, I wanted to talk about an album that I’ve been waiting for for quite some time: Opeth’s ‘Heritage’.

I’ll make no secret of the fact that I’m a big Opeth fan. I have been for almost as long as I’ve been listening to metal (close to a decade now – wow, how can something make you feel so old when you haven’t even hit 25?!). ‘Heritage’ is their new album, and it’s both a departure from their usual sound and an Opeth album in every way.

Let’s start with the departure aspect. Opeth have always been, primarily, a death metal band with progressive leanings. ‘Heritage’ is very much not a death metal album, but instead something much closer to 60s/70s prog rock. There are echoes of King Crimson, ELP, Camel, Jethro Tull, even the Beatles. There are no death metal vocals, and lots of keyboards/acoustic guitars. In this respect, ‘Heritage’ and it’s accompanying live tours have made a lot of long-term Opeth fans very unhappy. They wanted metal. They got 70’s-style prog rock.

There’s another side to this album though, and one which strikes me as very much Opeth’s traditional sound. There is a strong resemblance in many of the acoustic guitar riffs to those on the band’s only other non-death metal album, ‘Damnation’ (and in fact to acoustic guitar riffs on many of their other albums). The prog elements on ‘Heritage’ may be stronger than before, but they’d already made an appearance on the last two albums, ‘Ghost Reveries’ and ‘Watershed’. ‘Heritage’ is, in many ways, a continuation and expansion of those two albums, but it’s lost the metal elements to achieve that. Whether that’s appealing has more to do with the listener’s attachment to metal, rather than whether or not Opeth have changed their ‘sound’.

It’s not a perfect album, admittedly. Some of the songs, particularly those in the middle of the album, are so complex that they never really have a chance to get going – just when your ear has attuned itself to one melody, that melody is gone and doesn’t reappear in the rest of the song. It could also be argued that ‘Heritage’ is something of a pastiche of 70s prog, although I think there’s enough of Opeth’s signature sound in there to avoid that.

Overall, it’s a very impressive album. ‘The Devil’s Orchard’ and ‘Folklore’ in particular are excellent songs, but it’s listening to the album as a whole, start to finish, that provides the most rewarding experience. Recommended for lovers of prog rock, or for metalheads who are looking for something a bit different.

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