Do you want to buy a last minute Christmas gift that will challenge your near and dear fan of Metal music? No, I am not talking about Lulu, that incredibly awful piece of art rock garbage starring Metallica with Lou Reed. I am going to suggest an album by a metal band that has taken a chance that most in the genre would not dare take. Quite simply, I am recommending that you pick up a copy of Opeth’s newest record, Heritage, for your beloved metal fan.
Gone are the screams and howls of front man Mikael Akerfeldt. As matter of fact, a lot has been jettisoned and re-tooled here. Although the band still has quick brilliant outbursts of maximum crunchiness, the metal is gone for the most part. Ultimately, what the band has achieved, is taking what they have become famous for and dropping the loudness right out of the equation. Strangely enough, the result is one that works to perfection. Fans of Opeth’s rich metal driven back catalog, are having all kinds of reactions to this new album. Three camps of thinking are creeping up here: 1) Close mindedness to the new direction (a minority group at this point) 2) Unbelievable praise on the highest of levels for musical bravery and 3) People who did not dig it initially, who now understand that this is the band’s ultimate masterwork (the majority) In any case, it is a departure that is welcome and shows the band’s passion to create the best possible record that they can.
Now after getting all of the objectionable questions out of the way, it is easy to speak freely about what makes the record so timeless. It is beautifully dark, progressive, sprawling, and loud when it needs to be. The songwriting is a touch more reminiscent of the band’s overall influences. After listening to a song like The Devil’s Orchard, all I could think about was the King Crimson record, Red. It has that kind of vibe. In fact, that vibe is felt on a majority of this record. The use of Mellotron and Hammond based piano, helps paint a dark eerie landscape that accentuates the stop and start approach of attack. Also of note is the way in which the band has conceptually pieced together Heritage. It is obvious that this record was intended to be listened to in it’s entirety.
It’s a slightly old school idea but when we put out a record there are no ‘key songs.’ It’s the album that matters,” states Akerfeldt. “We’ll never have a ‘hit single.’ By no means would I want one song to be more important than another. We always put out an album and I personally enjoy listening to entire records. That is the kind of art that I like. I like bands with strong albums as opposed to just a couple of strong songs.”
There is a bottom line to this: give it a chance if you have heard it is not good. Other than Mastodon’s newest release, The Hunter, I can not think of an album that is anywhere near as good as this in 2011. Buy it as a gift, and watch your recipient try to figure out what is going on. It may take a couple of listens to let it fully absorb, but if that feeling of worth resonates…you will not hear the end of it!