Genre:Progressive Death Metal, Progressive Rock
Label:Nuclear Blast Records, Moderbolaget Records
Should I start? Does it even make sense to explain who Opeth is? Nope, no it doesn’t. But let’s do it anyway since this is one of the most important releases of the year. With more than 13 albums, the Swedish giants are one of the most recognizable and important names in progressive music. Their unique blend of death metal and 70s influences that began to gradually evolve from their older and heavier albums marked the scene and brought about countless imitators. For nearly 25 years, Akerfeldt and his entourage have been changing themselves and their environment with each release and I am constantly amazed by their ability to keep themselves artistically uncompromising yet refreshing.
Greatly controversial was Mikael’s decision since 2011 with ‘Heritage’ to move the band in a purely anachronistic direction, embracing their 70s influences, retaining their established Opeth-ness and – most importantly – abandoning the emblematic death growls. It was a big blow, after all we had our theories that the real gate to hell is hidden in his throat and that hole in Turkmenistan is just a scam. Nevertheless, a series of LPs such as the experimental ‘Sorceress’ and the powerful thematic ‘Pale Communion’ have demonstrated that their vision is still alive and they still have the Midas touch. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all sun and roses, since despite the Swede squad’s ability to transport us to their realm with ease, these albums left us with an expectation for something yet shapeless and undetermined that was missing from the products of their new era.
Which brings us to ‘In Cauda Venenum’, released just a few days ago. The album came out in 2 languages, an unprecedented move for the band, although they had written individual tracks in their native tongue with great success in the past. With 10 songs and a duration of just over 60 minutes, the exterior seems to be a typical affair for the guys, but its contents are another story altogether.
Now I’ll be perfectly honest, especially for the tl;dr: I’m completely biased as the band shaaped my teenage years almost single-handedly, but this is the record is exactly what they’ve been building up to these last few years. This is the zenith of the ride. They keep going of course with the 70s guitar sound and strong rhythm section from Axe and Martin Mendez which I would even dare to compare to their Blackwater Park days in intensity and consistency. We also encounter some well known in beloved elements in analog synthesizers and the ubiquitous mellotron. Mikael with heavily charged clean vocals and guitar parts gives one of the best performances of his career with his raw baritone voice leading every track. A particularly good word is due for the Swedish version of the album, since in this more intimate setting the frontman overcomes the language barrier to convey the emotional content of his lyrics with even greater intensity.
At a time in their career when most bands experience a drop in creativity, our heroes manage to maintain freshness and ingenuity by making the album a rollercoaster through genres, sonic textures and aesthetics. With moving moments for old school fans like ‘Heart in Hand’ and ‘Continuum’ but also daring combinations like ‘Charlatan’ with its jazz swing piano and ‘The Garroter’, an almost campy track with a Tim Burton feel, the album is a trip through their range of abilities.
Of course, the tracks tend to be relatively long and perhaps difficult to swallow in one sitting to some, which makes ‘In Cauda Venenum’ not a very good album for first timers in the band, with a lot of tribal repetition and extensive instrumental sections. However, I found it very difficult to find a genuine fault to attribute to the album.
So in the end I admit it, I’m in love. This record reminded me of the good old days when we drank beer in the parks at night and though being a nihilist was cool as we listened to ‘Damnation’ and ‘Ghost Reveries’. The nostalgic side of my cynical heart fluttered and my verdict came effortlessly: The aesthetics are coherent, the composition does not stumble, it takes you from the first note and guides you to a novel place accompanied by familiar faces. Clear and focused, diverse but tight, ‘In Cauda’ balances between extreme and outherworldly. I said what I had to say, listen to it and you will thank me. Now that I’m done writing it’s what I going to go do again.