It’s been three years since Heritage dropped to mixed reviews. Some hated it, refusing to accept Opeth without the death metal growls (and seemingly forgetting about the clean Damnation); others loved it, applauding the bold move instead of rehashing the past.
When the band announced that the new album, Pale Communion, would be again minus-death the debates flared up again. With this all in mind I’ll open this review by saying this, I’m a fan of Heritage (Slither in particular is a tune), but Pale Communion leaves it in the dust.
They have taken the prog rock sound of Heritage and combined it with the death metal atmosphere of the older albums. While this is just my opinion, I believe this is where a lot of the criticism of Heritage came from. While it was a very good album (in my opinion once again), it lacked that atmosphere that is so often prevalent throughout an Opeth album.
Pale Communion see’s the return of the big atmospheric sweeping sound we came to know between the heavy sections of songs like Blackwater Park. Apparently the album lasts just under an hour. I refuse to believe this as I’m sure that amount of time absolutely did not pass. The music sucks you in, refusing to sit as just a background melody to your day. Frequently you’ll find yourself zoned out just enjoying the feeling of the music washing over you.
Akerfeldt’s vocals are some of the strongest he has delivered with a clean voice, sometimes allowing a dirty rasp in to lend heaviness rather than a growl such as a few notes in Moon Above, Sun Below.
Moon Above.. also features a brief call back to Hessian Peel at six minutes and thirty seconds in, which for those of you who enjoy a good riff, will know is when the heavy riff kicks in during Hessian Peel.
The album frequently uses dry vocals, almost giving the impression that Akerfeldt is right behind you, but this also serves as an excellent contrast in sounds, such as with the reverb heavy melodic “oo’s” in the final track Faith In Others.
Melodic is the perfect word to describe this album, and it’s almost an understatement. My original fear was that it was going to be almost overkill prog in the classic 70s discordant way but despite brief flirtations with that sort of prog, it’s much more melodic than some may expect.
It may not be a drop in, drop out album though. While some Opeth albums are open to the listener playing through a couple of tracks at random, Pale Communion seems to be a sum of its parts style release, yearning for the days of vinyl when skipping tracks was a lot harder. Listening to it whole is more of an experience than merely playing a couple of tunes. How this will transfer to the stage I don’t know but if you’re looking for a good way to lose an hour in the house, this is it.
Despite not being a death metal record, this is perhaps the most “Opeth” sounding record they have released in a long time. Unless you’re a death metal purist type, it will surely please you even if Heritage left you cold.