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Opeth - Pale Communion

Label: Roadrunner
Format: CD
Released: 2014
Reviewed By: Jack Mangan
Rating: 9/ 10


A new Opeth release always causes a stir in the Metal World, and 2014's "Pale Communion" is no exception. Their previous record, 2011's excellent "Heritage" (in)famously split the fanbase by abandoning the trademark melody and heaviness of their previous incarnations in favor of straight-on 1970s prog-rock.

 

"Pale Communion's" opening track, ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’, begins with two minutes of noodly, proggy non-riffage, almost as an audio middle finger to all of "Heritage's" complainers. It's a fine intro, but once it runs its course, the song transitions to some of the most beautiful, haunting, lush material Mikael Akerfeldt has ever produced, which is saying something. Ahhhh, that's more like it. The rest of the album is a solidly enjoyable run, with a few more returns to the brilliant songcraft of his past, notably spaced throughout the epic ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ and the reduce-you-to-jelly gorgeous ‘Faith in Others’, which sounds like a sequel to the ballad, ‘Burden’, from the "Watershed" album. The other five tracks are all pretty enjoyable representations of what Opeth has become. ‘River’ stands out as the biggest surprise of the album: a tune whose first half follows a 5-4-1 riff loop, a la the biggest hits of every 1970s also-ran pop rock radio band.

Throughout his career, Mikael Akerfeldt has made some very good new music in this old genre of prog-rock, inter-mingled with Death Metal, dark Led Zeppelin-esque classic rock, folk, and Sabbath-style ballads, sometimes all in the same song. In his new role as a full-time prog-enthusiast, he seems to still be searching for the perfect balance between progressive jamming and Opeth-brand deep melody. The mid-song section transitions here are sometimes abrupt and awkward, as they'd never been before "Heritage," but I think we're still hearing Mikael get more comfortable in his new skin. His genius for songwriting is still apparent, and I predict their next album will be one of their absolute best.

In summary: I've critiqued somewhat harshly, but it's all out of love. "Pale Communion" is fully justified by its many, many beautiful moments, and it will exist as an essential work of one of latter-day Metal's greatest bands. There's no reason for anyone to pass this album by.

Quick editorial: By all accounts, Mikael Akerfeldt had begun work on the follow-up to the magnum Opeth opus, "Watershed," when he consciously chose to throw out all of the new material and re-invent his band as a 70s-inspired prog outfit. The result was "Heritage." That album had some really good songs and "Pale Communion" has some amazing stuff, but I still can't help wondering how good that abandoned follow-up to "Watershed" could have been.

 
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