Pale Communion, a mark of true innovation from true metal innovators
Opeth are a band that wear their progressive instincts on their sleeves, and as any fan of a progressive band knows, you can’t get too settled on a single sound. The desire to experiment, to innovate and to explore never ends, and this is certainly true of Opeth, a band nobody could ever claim is scared to breach new sonic territory.
Pale Communion (2014)
August 2014 saw Opeth’s latest release hit the market, Pale Communion, and as always with an Opeth release fans were extremely keen to see the vision and journey they could expect from the Swedish song-smiths. The result is an album that shares a similar expanse of creative drive as Opeth’s older releases, but offers a cleaner and more pristine sound in keeping with a band constantly moving and constantly innovative in their approach.
Complex harmonies, beautiful melodies and soaring vocals are moulded together absolutely seamlessly; the prog influence in Opeth’s music never far from the front and this makes sure that they always provide an audience with a captivating listen.
Pale Communion has been generally well received, though as always there will be those who dislike the new direction a band chooses to take.
Some know what they like, and want it over and over again. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it’s true to say that it would be tiresomely constraining for a band with the inventive approach of Opeth to merely crank out carbon copy albums again and again. Mikael Akerfeldt said he wished to take a more melodic approach with Pale Communion, and he has certainly achieved this, as it provides a captivating listen from start to finish.
Blackwater Park (2001)
Though when compared to 2001’s release of Blackwater Park, the identifiable core ‘Opeth Sound’ is still there, though Blackwater Park is a more frenetic affair and certainly does not lack any sort of punch whatsoever. Opeth paint an epic picture, and weave their prog influences effortlessly with the traditional crushing riffs and death growls that provide them the metal core from which to work.
Even though Blackwater Park is an arguable ‘harsher’ affair, it still has the quintessential Opeth vein of experimentation and it’s entirely captivating from the moment you hit ‘play’. Blackwater Park still offers so much more than a ‘traditional’ metal album, and Opeth are clearly equally comfortable playing delicately, cleanly and melodically as they are crushing your soul with monolithic riffs, rhythms and growls.
This would be followed the following year by Deliverance, arguably one of, if not the, heaviest Opeth albums to date. Deliverance truly starts as it means to go on with fierce riff-age and the death growl taking no prisoners from the outset. Certainly something to appeal to those who are looking for something more ‘traditionally metal’, but even in this Opeth just can’t get away from their desire to push the boundaries and to test the limits.
It’s so much more the formulaic riffs and growling, the sheer energy is still there in absolute spades and there’s an intricacy and complexity to the harmonies that means even though it’s aggressive and in your face, Deliverance truly carves a crushingly beautiful sonic structure.
Opeth have never been a band to shy away from showing their more delicate nature, but Deliverance shows they’re still not afraid to pack a punch when they feel the need to.
Watershed is another album that marks great importance in the Opeth back catalog as many people see it as the true turning point where the band truly and openly embraced their more progressive nature and influences, and explored cleaner and more delicate harmonies more often.
Even so, there is nothing to indicate that Watershed was the moment Opeth decided to lose their teeth and abandon metal, as there is still the epic-ally monumental riff-age, soaring vocals and expansive sonic scope that one can come to expect from them.
Akerfeldt again shows himself to be more than comfortable whether he is screaming, growling or whispering into a microphone, and a truly epic album is the end result, one that has earned the respect it enjoys.
This delicate and finely tuned balance that Opeth found between their metal heritage and progressive influences seems to have been a hit, as not only has Watershed enjoyed almost universal critical acclaim since it has been released, but it has also seemed to inform their subsequent releases.
As always, Opeth continue to impress with their relentless willingness to explore new sonic ground and their refusal to fit into a niche and provide the same old material to their fans, and as such they’re truly to be commended in an age where in the music business at large such exploration often seems discouraged.
Though impossible to please everyone, Opeth maintains a dedicated following thanks to their committal to musical exploration as well as their honesty and transparency when it comes to letting their influences and creative visions shine through their music.
Following Pale Communion’s release, Opeth have been touring extensively, with dates at the end of April penciled in for Japan, followed by a tour of Australia through may.