It’s certainly not news that the music created by OPETH has changed over the years since forming in 1990. The most drastic change occurring on 2011’s Heritage, where OPETH mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt removed all death metal growls and screams from his vocal approach, and the band wrote a far more progressive rock sounding record compared to albums past. This change divided the fan base into those wishing OPETH would revert to their more death metal sounding approach, and those whom embraced the change. Going into the latest album, Pale Communion (out August 26 via Roadrunner Records), fans can expect a continuation of progressive songwriting.
From the gate, I can tell you that if you have an open mind when it comes to OPETH’s music, you should enjoy this LP. Pale Communion is rife with nostalgia in that it gives a familiar feel to the great progressive rock from the 1970s, yet is full of new life and freshness. “Eternal Rains Will Come” starts in an abstract fashion and has heavy emphasis on keys (organ). This song contains some of the catchiest instrumentation and vocal melodies on the record. Out of all eight tracks on this LP, I found this one getting stuck in my head the most. I can’t emphasize enough how great it is, and I truly believe it is one of those rare songs that gets better with each and every listen. It creates a somber, yet calming atmosphere. “Cusp of Eternity” follows and was the first taste of the new record released by the band. My initial reaction of this track has stuck with me, as it feels like a rightful follow up song to most of what Heritage captured. It has heaviness in the foundation and core of the song, while the surface shows excellent vocals, rhythmic character and subtleties, and some of the best guitar work on the album.
“Moon Above, Sun Below” clocks in at just less than 11 minutes long and is the most moody composition on the album. It is absolutely brilliant in its structure, lyrics, and arrangement. Mikael Åkerfeldt’s singing voice has never sounded better than it does on this song. The display of his range, melodies, and emotions is stellar. You’ll experience sections where the guitars and keys (organ) follow the same patterns, giving an old school YES vibe to the song while maintaining originality. “Elysian Woes” is an overall slower paced and softer sounding number. While it somewhat ends abruptly, placed next to the proggy instrumental, “Goblin,” these two tracks serve as a dual part interlude or halfway divider to the album. Personally, I love how that was done, whether that was the intention or not. The track order for Pale Communion could not be better. “Goblin” is a bit more upbeat compared to its predecessor and certainly has moments of jazz. Again, the varying emotions on the LP are great.
The sixth, and my favorite, composition on the album is titled “River.” It begins with just acoustic guitar and vocals, adding minimal percussion. Later, it swells with a guitar solo before calming down again. The tempo and volume then increase again before the song’s end. The vocals are large and harmonious overall, giving that larger than life, multi-harmony approach commonly found in 70s rock. “Voice of Treason” sees more of an orchestral addition to the keys (organ) which goes over well. There are even random spurts of added acoustic guitar parts. The song just soars. “Faith in Others” might be one of OPETH’s greatest album closers to date. While generally slower tempo for most of the track, it has a haunting feeling similar to the slower sections on Ghost Reveries; something that OPETH has always been great at and has been a staple in their sound pretty much since inception. The ethereal atmosphere is a perfect end to a much different listening experience (when compared to the band’s total discography). Pale Communion stands on its own, but is definitely a refined and more progressive continuation from Heritage. As much as I love the OPETH of old, this album has really made me love their current sound.
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM
WRITTEN BY ERIC THE BULL