Opeth’s roots may be steeped in death metal, but that hasn’t stopped them hurling the odd stylistic curveball when it’s least expected. “But they’re not balls-to-the-wall heavy anymore?!” cried old-school fans when confronted with the clean singing and vintage rock tones of 2011’sHeritage. That said, if you’re yearning for the blackened death metal of yore, continue to look elsewhere – you won’t get your fix here.
The Scandinavian gloom still lingers, but overall the picture is brighter on Opeth’s 11th studio album, Pale Communion. Vocalist Mikael Бkerfeldt’s guttural growl has been retired (again), replaced with a delicate croon that’s layered upon sprawling, midtempo grooves. Ghostly acoustic passages, sizzling lead chops and ’70s-inspired prog are mixed together like watercolours on the epic ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’. ‘River’ is perhaps the prettiest-sounding thing Opeth have ever written – and so the most polarising. Melding Crosby, Stills & Nash-inspired acoustic swing with dense finger-twisting riffs and wailing solos, the track shows Opeth are pushing forward, mixing a signature sound with a diverse range of melodic ideas.
Pale Communion is the sound of a band drawing inspiration from the past while maintaining an outlook on the future.