Monday, September 1, 2014

Opeth - Pale Communion

I stumbled across Opeth just shortly after the turn of the century at a show where they were second after Angel Dust and before Nevermore. I had never heard of them up to this point. I was floored by that hybrid of old 70s prog and death metal and swore to get everything they had done, up to that point. I was hooked ever since that concert. The first metal show I took my children to was Opeth in 2004. I think this band gets so much more undeserved shit by some in the metal community because they are so misunderstood. There newest release, Pale Communion, should settle all misunderstandings. This is truly Opeth, sans the death metal approach, and it's just incredible.

In every Opeth album there is at least one section on each song that is acoustic, psychedelic, or reminiscent of old 70s prog and space rock. I guess it's just me but anyone who likes metal, I'm sure likes Pink Floyd, or Yes, or early Genesis...maybe even early Kansas. That mixture of  the death metal with those prog sections made this band so unique. Some found this boring and uninteresting. I found it truly amazing. So the most natural progression for this band would be to strip away the death metal and go completely prog. They flirted with it on 2003s Damnation and it seemed they were on to something. You could tell that with each passing album after it, they were just going through the motions when it came to the death metal parts. Anyone who pays attention could tell that where they are now was inevitable. They just needed to say fuck it, and go for it. So they release statements that there will be no death metal vocals on what would become 2011's Heritage. Heritage was a good, but flawed start to this new sound. With this new album all the kinks have been ironed out and they could release album after album that sounded like this and I would be happy.

The biggest difference on this album compared to the last is the guitars. They have much more balls to them. Heritage seemed almost timid to they were walking on eggshells. This time out they just went for it to create an album that shows their true identity. "Eternal Rains Will Come" is heavy on the organ but the guitars come to the front when they are required to. This is everything I love about 70s prog with the jazzy/fusion rhythms and the solos that just shred. Mikael's layered vocals sound quite good. The Moody Blues sounding Mellotron gives the song so much atmosphere. "Cusp of Eternity" is a bit more riff driven and a bit heavier. This guitar sound on the solo of this song is just mesmerizing. The vocal lines are sung well on this one as well. He seems to be refining his clean vocals and doing a good job of it. But that fucking solo...I guess his voice isn't the only thing Mikael's been refining.

It wouldn't be an Opeth album without the long epic number and "Moon Above, Sun Below" is that song. This song is just a rollercoaster of feelings and sounds. From softer acoustic passages and leads that sound like David Gilmore to heavier sounds to complex rhythms and an amazing solo. His layered vocals also are prominent here as they almost have an old school jazzy inflection to them in places and then to softer more melodic melodies as well. There is enough going on to keep you interested in this almost eleven minute opus. On the other hand, the opening to "River" sounds like an almost southern rock song with the acoustic opening and harmonies. The solo and the keyboards just scream Allman Brothers in places on this song, then is replaced by this jam where the solos are just battling it out. Trying to actually describe this entire song, as with most songs on this album, is impossible because of all the dimensions at play here.

You have some songs that are on the "heavy" side like the aforementioned "Cusp of Eternity." "Voice of Treason" is another song that has this heavy feel about it. It has some eastern sounding melodies fused with some heavier melodies and tempos. The last two minutes are fucking epic and Mikael's voice gives me chills here. The melancholy lyrics are one thing that Opeth has not changed. The album closer, "Faith in Others" is prime example of that darkness. This is a softer song not reaching anything more than a ballad in terms of it's rhythm or melody. But it's one of those ballads that borders on epic and makes this the perfect way to close this incredible musical journey.

I'm an unapologetic Opeth fan. I have enjoyed all of their albums and absolutely love most of them. This band has created some of the most incredible music I've ever heard. Why they are so divisive in the metal community is beyond me. I guess because I feel that the 70s prog was the path that led me to heavy metal every metalhead should love this band. All I know is that after going through their progression I think they've released the perfect album for where they are as a band. If you don't understand what Opeth is about after this album then, maybe, you won't ever get it. I think this album is flawless.


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