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Opeth - "Heritage" (CD)

Opeth - "Heritage" CD cover image

"Heritage" track listing:

1. Heritage (2:05)
2. The Devil's Orchard (6:40)
3. I Feel the Dark (6:40)
4. Slither (4:03)
5. Nepenthe (5:40)
6. Häxprocess (6:57)
7. Famine (8:32)
8. The Lines in My Hand (3:49)
9. Folklore (8:19)
10. Marrow of the Earth (4:19)

Reviewed by on September 14, 2011

"...while definitely listenable and enjoyable, this is the first time Opeth has ever released something that wasn’t at or very near sonic perfection, which may be a seriously tough pill to swallow for die-hard fans who never thought this day would come."

Opinions on Opeth’s tenth observation were formed and solidified for many metal fans before the album even became available, when hints were first dropped about the loss of all death metal vocals, and the release of the ‘70s style artwork. As someone who has worshiped at the altar of Opeth for more than a decade, this particular reviewer avoided all chances to hear advance tracks to take in the whole experience as one hopefully world-shatteringly awesome album. Unfortunately, this reviewer has officially been left disappointed, his altar desecrated and his faith shaken.

Let’s get something about the sound of “Heritage” out of the way first. Despite what’s been hyped across the Internet, this album isn’t as massive a departure in sound as anyone might have been led to believe. Some dynamics have changed, most noticeably ten songs occupying the same space that would normally only have six or seven, but much more remains the same. The only major style shift takes place on “Slither,” which is more rock and roll oriented than anything the band has ever done before.

Ten seconds into the second track “The Devil’s Orchard” it’s abundantly clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that this is still Opeth. The keyboards in the background work the exact same way, the structure of the guitar work is essentially unchanged, the backing ethereal guitar segments sound just like they did on “Blackwater Park,” random ghostly transitions pop into songs, and the trailing notes Opeth is known for continue to appear.

So why the disappointment? It’s certainly not the lack of front man Mikael Akerfeldt’s death growls. The “Damnation” album went sans-growling and was still a fantastic album that fits perfectly in the group’s discography. The problem is that while this album sounds predominately like Opeth, it sounds like the most boring aspects of Opeth tracks strung together by long sections of overly quiet music where next to nothing is happening.

These unnecessarily low-key segments occur throughout the whole album, with only the aforementioned “The Devil’s Orchard” seeming to escape it, and “Nepenthe,” “Haxprocess,” and “Famine” being the worst offenders. Lesser bands can get away with filler interludes, but the mighty Opeth can and has done better than this. Instead of specifically trying to make a completely mellow album like “Damnation,” or writing fantastic music that just happens to not be heavy (like any number of mellow songs from any previous album), it seems like Opeth tried to keep the core sound while purposefully ignoring the death metal dynamic to prove something, and some critical component got lost in translation.

None of this is to say that “Heritage” isn’t worth hearing or lacks anything that makes Opeth great. Mikael’s clean vocals still blend with the music beautifully, and the jazzy and proggy influences are still clearly present for most of the disc. In fact some sections of the album almost sound like a remix of “Watershed” or “Ghost Reveries” where the growls got ditched. The “Folklore” track works the keyboard-clean vocals-guitar dynamic for all its worth, providing a listen that’s both low-key and engaging.

If one thing is certain about “Heritage,” it’s that it will divide Opeth fans, old and new alike. Loving the “Damnation” album doesn’t ensure “Heritage” will be as warmly received, while preferring the band’s death metal segments likewise doesn’t mean this album will be a waste of a listener’s time. The bottom line is that, while definitely listenable and enjoyable, this is the first time Opeth has ever released something that wasn’t at or very near sonic perfection, which may be a seriously tough pill to swallow for die-hard fans who never thought this day would come.

Highs: "The Devil's Orchard" and "Folklore" keep up the Opeth vibe admirably.

Lows: Nearly every song has some unnecessarily long section of overly-quiet music where nothing interesting happens.

Bottom line: This is a first in the history of Opeth - an album that is merely "good" and not "absolutely stunningly perfect."

Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls
3.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)