Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Opeth: Heritage (2011)


Here we have it--Opeth's Heritage is going to be the most divisive album of the year. As the details of the band's tenth full-length slowly came out, we were gradually given a picture of one of the most beloved bands in metal abandoning metal entirely. It didn't really surprise anyone. They had done progressive rock before, on 2003's Damnation, and since 2001's landmark Blackwater Parkthey had become progressively more experimental, and more willing to flirt with softer sounds, culminating in 2008's aptly titled Watershed. That album opened with the super-soft "Coil" and included the strange ballad "Burden" as its centerpiece.

So it's not surprising at all that they've abandoned growls, heavy guitars, and aggressive drumming. But the question is, can they pull off the 70's prog album they tried to pen? The answer is a qualified yes.

Heritage is absolutely not metal. "Still," as observed on Beards, etc., "it [doesn't] sound like some random prog band, it [sounds] like Opeth." The album is extremely progressive. Not necessarily in the sense that it's technically demanding, but in the broader sense Opeth has always embraced. The songs unfold in unexpected ways through multiple movements. It's incredibly dynamic, quiet minimalism alternating with complex loud sections featuring many different sounds. The keyboard instruments (piano, electric organ, and others) have taken on more prominence, and they've even included flute in one track. I never thought I'd say this, but my favorite part of the album is actually a very cool flute solo. Who knew? Rarely, the album even gets a bit heavy, although much of that is provided by the organ rather than the guitars.

There are a number of memorable melodies, plenty of hooks, and of course Mikael Åkerfeldt's wonderful singing voice. The whole thing is brought together by a warm, natural, and dynamic production job that sounds exactly the way it should sound--and begs to be turned up so you can catch every detail.

What's the downside? Well, by abandoning metal entirely, they've handicapped themselves. This album is dynamic, but it's missing the most important dynamic Opeth perfected with Watershed: the delicate/brutal dynamic. Now, there's no brutality. No matter how open I want to keep my mind, I miss that, and the album suffers for it.

The Verdict: Keep an open mind, and you may well like Heritage. Or you'll hate it. There won't be many middle-of-the-road opinions on this one. I give it 4 out of 5 stars. The very good score does reflect some disappointment, because if you would have asked me a year ago, I would have predicted anything they released would be perfect.


  1. Honestly, I don't know how to feel about this. What I loved about Opeth was their ability to go from the beautiful to the ugly. Taking one of those out completely, no matter which one, seriously alters their sound and what I love about them. I would have felt the same had they abandoned the progressive rock. I am on the fence.

  2. As I said, I miss that too. It would be nice if they would follow this one up with one that's entirely ugly (I won't hold my breath), and that way we'll get an interesting 2-album dynamic like Deliverance/Damnation.

    I just hope they come back to metal next time. Even if it's just for a few brief seconds. Give me four death growls spaced throughout the album!

    On the other hand, what they've done is so good that it's hard for me not to like it. If it didn't have the Opeth name on it, I may have gone to an even higher score. I could have written off the "sounds like Opeth" stuff to the fact that Akerfeldt is the principal songwriter. And then on the third hand (apparently I'm a mutant today) I like the fact that Opeth is the kind of band that can do this.

    I could go on and on about it, going back and forth. There's a lot to like, but I'm still missing that metallic edge.

  3. You already know what I think, so I won't repeat myself here. It seems our opinions on this one are pretty similar, though.