Opeth’s ‘Pale Communion’ pulls further away from death metal while they tend to prog flames

OpethBy now, we all should have accepted that Opeth have moved past this death metal thing and are a full-throttle prog band now, right? I don’t want to devote a huge paragraph to explaining this to anyone, because it should be common knowledge to most people who visit this site. Oh, well, I kind of just did that, didn’t I?

Anyway, yes, anyone who was holding his or her breath hoping Opeth’s new record “Pale Communion” finally would be the one that put them back on the path to “Blackwater Park”-ness should just go ahead and take in some oxygen. It’s a worthless cause, you see? Opeth clearly have changed their stripes, and they’ve done so gradually throughout the years. So what greets you on this new, eight-track collection should come as no shock. Where you might be a little shaken (and not necessarily in a bad way), is the power and confidence with which Opeth deliver their music. They have fully embraced this new direction, and they take what they did on “Heritage” and push it full force into the future. There’s no turning back now, not that the band would even entertain the notion. If you’re one that only can accept this band in their death metal phase, you’re likely gone for good. “Pale Communion” is not bringing you back into the fold.

Opeth coverI admit I miss Opeth’s older days. I don’t begrudge them these changes. You can hear it in the music, in leader Mikael Akerfeldt’s interviews, in pretty much every bit of Opeth’s DNA that this is where they want to be. They sound damn good doing it too, from the organ-heavy passages, to the spidery paths the compositions take, to Akerfeldt’s very much stepped-up role as a vocalist. This record wasn’t done to gain them more fans or expand their audience. If anything, it might do the opposite, but I doubt the band is terribly worried. It sounds like these guys–also includes guitarist Fredrik Akesson, bassist Martin Mendez, keyboard player Joakim Svalberg, and drummer Martin Axenrot–are having way too much fun doing what they’re doing now.

“Eternal Rains Will Come” is one hell of a song, and it blasts you in the face with its 1970s-style prog assault, warm keyboards, trickling, and lush group vocals that sound dynamite. There is some great lead vocal work as well, which isn’t a surprise, and the guitar work is top notch, carrying you to the raucous end. “Cusp of Eternity” is the heaviest of the bunch, and it’s as close as the band comes to their burlier early work. The guitars chug pretty hard, Akerfeldt sounds at the top of his game, and the wordless chorus is a riveting one that’ll stick in your head long after it’s done. “Moon Above, Sun Below” runs 10:52, and there are some more forceful yells mixed into the vocals, which is a nice change of pace. The music is adventurous, with Akerfeldt noting, “Home is my grave,” and eventually everything runs into a bluesier section, with the vocals fitting right along with it. The final moments are dressed with whirring, spacey keys and drizzling piano. “Elysian Woes” is a much softer song, with acoustics leading the way, and even some flutes having their moment. Later, keys flutter, and Akerfeldt admits, “I don’t want to bear my scars for you.”

“Goblin” is an interesting, fun instrumental cut, with pulsating keyboards and a jazzy approach to the playing. “River” rises out of that with acoustic lead lines that mix into an oddly classic rock-style segment. In fact, the track sounds so much like mid-1970s American rock, it takes a little bit of getting used to coming from these guys. Later, the song feels a lot more like an Opeth cut, with the music getting earthier and challenging, and the final moments catching fire. “Voice of Treason” runs exactly eight minutes, and it mixes all kind of textures into the scene. There are echoey keyboards, strings that drive the song hard and really grab your ear, and later some Middle Eastern-flavored melodies. The song keeps morphing and growing, never showing its hand as to where it’s going, and it all ends up in a charged up finish complete with soulful vocals. Closer “Faith in Others” is another softer track, but one that’s propulsive and active. There are pianos and strings to provide color, and the vocals reveal a sense of vulnerability. Eventually guitars bleed in, meet up with thick strings, and build toward a lush finish that feels like the sun setting after a long, productive day.

Like I said, I much prefer Opeth in their death metal era than their foray into progressive rock. But they sound like a band that’s come alive, and that’s just too bad I feel the way I do. “Pale Communion” is a damn impressive, well played, well executed record, and I’d imagine its true home format is on vinyl, pouring like honey form your speakers. I don’t doubt Opeth’s heart and path for a second, and really, that’s all that matters. There always will be people like me left to tread backward into the band’s catalog as these guys catapult into their future.

For more on the band, go here: http://opeth.com/

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