For their tenth album Opeth has taken a different approach by summoning Mikael Åkerfeldt’s 1970s progressive rock influences. Heritage is an ode and celebration of a time in rock history where technical prowess and grandiose concepts reigned. This overt homage has the signature brand of progressive fusion Opeth had always had, but this time its the forefront style.
“Heritage” lays the groundwork for the eerie mood with a soft piano ballad, but merely a calm before the storm. “The Devil’s Orchard” is the first example of Opeth’s new venture and is an immediate standout track. The song takes no prisoners with its nostalgic melody that leads up to the iconic beckoning in the chorus: “God is Dead”. Other standout tracks include “The Lines in My Hand” which as a killer bass-line that shows the band’s musical dexterity in this experimental phase in their history.
Nearly all the songs showcase the prog rock/death metal fusion that Opeth had always had a clever grasp on, a beloved talent that took them to the top of the death metal scene. “Häxprocess” and “Famine” reaffirm the album and the band’s commitment to both poles of sound they have created over the years. “Folklore” rounds out the album with an epic song that truly captures everything that Opeth is about; epic stories and themes that match the dark and eerie moods. “Marrow of the Earth” takes the album back around to an acoustic and electric guitar ballad that returns to many of the album’s themes and sums up the album with aplomb. The contrasting nature between the piano-driven opening and predominately guitar-driven closing explains that the beginning is not too much different than the end, but that was indeed a metamorphosis in the story, and perhaps for the listener too.
For those who disappointed in the release, what I assume to be primarily traditional Opeth fans, this direction was inevitable if you are acquainted with their long career. Mikael Åkerfeldt has been contrasting the clean with the dirty for over fifteen years. Yet, the even for the classic Opeth fan, there is still the style and tendencies that makes Opeth standout among many metal and prog fans. For Heritage, Åkerfeldt has mixed the two poles of the band’s sound for something right down the middle.
The album features the return of the post-production services of Steven Wilson who also produced their acoustic outing Damnation. Wilson has become the go to man for progressive and cinematic mixing; his stint with re-mixing both stereo and surround sound releases of King Crimson albums should be enough evidence that he has the chops to touch this vulnerable Opeth material. A team up between Åkerfeldt and Wilson (formerly with Mike Portnoy) had been fueling for some time, but in the meantime, Heritage will do. It is cinematic and moody like a Porcupine Tree album, but stoic and heavy like a classic Opeth release.
This album has thoughtfully composed grooves that are indeed rocking but evoke moods and feelings not unlike any Opeth album before it. Opeth is not oblivious to their own heritage. This mashup between their signature sound and their nostalgic walk down rock and metal memory lane. Their tenth album will certainly mark the band’s evolution. Instead of plateauing after critical and commercially successful releases such as Ghost Reveries and Watershed, Åkerfeldt took a deep look inside and chose to give a look back to the music that influenced the Opeth sound. They have toned down the speed and death metal tropes for a straight up metal album where the heaviness found a sweet space between nostalgia and experimentation. Heritage is an album that has shaken a few feathers, but is an epic release that will provide a slew of songs that will surely come alive during the subsequent tour.