By Jared Sokoloff
Opeth is not a screamo band. It’s a progressive death metal group, but don’t worry, because there’s none of that on “Pale Communion,” the group’s latest offering. But if you are into the whole progressive death metal scene, then maybe worry a little.
It’s a slight disappointment that Opeth has completely abandoned its death metal roots, seeing as it was one of the best in the genre. Bandleader Mikael Åkerfeldt death growls were among a very select few that I could call “beautiful” (all you non-metal people, I know this makes no sense to you, but stick with me here). In recent years, Ankerfelt has found success outside of metal, with both the group’s 2011 album, “Heritage,” and with his musical collaboration with both fellow progressive-rock god Steven Wilson and the band Storm Corrosion.
Following in the same vein as its previous release, 2011’s “Heritage,” Opeth had abandoned lengthy double bass drums passages, death growls and evil distorted guitars. Instead, lush harmonies, delicate guitar solos and jazzy interludes take the place of the heaviness.
The classic prog influences seem to be mixed in a bit too strongly here. “Eternal Rains Will Come” and “Goblin” are extremely reminiscent of classic Emerson, Lake & Palmer albums, and “Voice of Reason” sounds just a bit too close to Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
Wilson has found great success with taking strong influence from the prog classic, but he is able to update and breathe new life into them by fusing traditional prog production with electronic effects, kraut-rock guitars and drums, as well as a keen pop sensibility. A combination like this keeps music recognizable yet constantly fresh. Opeth missed an opportunity here to properly infuse death metal with classic prog and ultimately create a new experience.
I believe that the musical direction of the album could have been executed with greater success had they allowed a bit of metal into the music.
All that being said, this is still a very high-quality album. As with any Opeth release, the technical skill of the musicians is near unbelievable at times. The music is beautifully written and produced, and the gothic lyrics fit the music perfectly. The range of influences are varied, as with any Opeth album, from folk to jazz to classical to near pop.
The most interesting track on the album is “River,” which is a happy acoustic number. Happy is not exactly a word that can be used to describe anything that Ankerfelt has ever written, yet here is a relatively upbeat tune. The second half of the song goes back into darker territory and seems to take influence from Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick,” but it’s refreshing to hear something this different on the album.
Ultimately, “Pale Communion” is a great album, but could definitely be better. Hopefully, Ankerfelt will let up his hard ban on metal for the next album and create a true masterpiece thereafter.