Since Opeth decided to go all in on Prog-rock and lose the growling, much of the Metal in their music went the same way. Not that they’re not Metal anymore, they are, but the most brutal parts, the Death Metal in their music pretty much disappeared. So from Heritage (2011) and forward, that’s what Opeth has provided us with which in turn has become a watershed (sic!) among their fans. Some hate their new stuff, some prefer the new stuff and some – like me – love both. But I can understand the criticism, that old fans miss the heaviness and raw Metal because I miss it at times as well – my favorite album is still Watershed (2008). That said, Opeth still have their own sound and it’s not like they have stopped sounding like Opeth which in turn makes it hard to grasp how anyone can love the older albums and hate the newer ones.
The last album Sorceress (2016) did bring back at least a bit of the lost heaviness which made for old fans hoping they were on their way to bring back some of their Death Metal roots. But knowing Mikael Åkerfeldt and his cohorts – Fredrik Åkesson (guitar), Martin Mendez (bass), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Joakim Svalberg (keyboards) – it’s not Opeth’s way to look back, they look forward. That’s why I shouldn’t have been surprised – which I was – when they decided on making two versions of their brand new album, one with Swedish lyrics, one with English. And it seems like it’s the Swedish version that is the “official” one. But since I always have had issues with Swedish lyrics, it’s the English version I have reviewed here. That said, I did listen to both. And as always, since Opeth just don’t know how to make bad records, I knew this album would be at least good. If it is, I’ll be disappointed – anything less than very good just won’t do with this band.
Opener “Garden Of Earthly Delights” is an instrumental – I don’t want to use the word “intro” here, it’s more of a “prelude” than anything else. The tune begins with an ominous sounding, slightly gothic ambience that makes me think of latin monks singing. An organ comes in creating a “bubbling” sound, in use for a better word, and some atmospheric keyboards right there on top. The tune brings on a soothing and calming soundscape, almost hypnotic and ends with Fredrik Åkesson’s young daughter laying the comment “if one stop thinking then one become dead” in Swedish. How very wise and insightful for a five-year-old.
Fat, heavy, dark and pounding – with some lively acoustic guitars in the background – the latest pre-album taster “Dignity” comes in bringing some spoken-word in Swedish over a steady rhythm followed by a Ritchie Blackmore influenced guitar solo. An acoustic guitar/lead vocals-only passage follows, holding a gorgeous arrangement before it heavies up with rhythmic, jazzy groove and riff-happy guitars, very 70’s sounding. On top we get a mesmerizing but very memorable refrain with big vocals that also takes a more proggy form. Towards the end, the song gets stripped down, changing the dynamics once more. Brilliant song.
The album’s first taster, “Hand In Heart” kicks off with a heavy, rolling groove. I might get my ass kicked for writing this, but it actually think of the beginning of Mötley Crüe’s “Dr Feelgood”. It’s pretty straightforward for an Opeth-song and holds a distinct main-melody. The rowdy rhythm section brings on some chunky twists and the Metal fueled arrangement brings on slight nods towards old-day Opeth. No growl, though! It’s progressive yet with quite accessible melodies, chugging guitars and pounding drums – and a chorus that hits like good punch in the gut. There’s also a gorgeous acoustic guitar passage that leads the song into balladry, slow and slightly dreamy. It’s like a whole new song within the song and that’s how the tune ends. I’m sorry if I offended anyone with my Mötley reference but to me those things even makes things cooler and interesting – even if it’s (probably) not intentional at all. Astonishing, to put it mildly!
Doomy, dark and heavy, the slow-paced “Next To Kin” is next up. The verses here are taciturn, even quiet but then goes into a beefy, thick groove only for an acoustic guitar passage to show up, a passage later completed by a soft vocal-melody. It then builds up a heavy and bouncy soundscape, leading us to believe we’re in for a Metal treat when the verses comes back all mellow and soothing again. It’s an epic track with an enormous soundscape no matter if it’s heavy or laid-back. Phenomenal. Starting out as a mellow and melancholic piano-ballad, “Lovelorn Crime” is stripped and brings on a gorgeous vocal-arrangement. When the band joins in the song goes into 70’s sounding prog-rock balladry, soothing and feelgood-sounding on a big soundscape and an enormous main-melody. It’s warm and gentle with memorable and accurate melodies all over and brilliantly orchestrated. Åkesson’s guitar solo is amazing – emotional, passionate, warm and melodic. This is pure brilliance, folks.
“Charlatan” takes us back to the old days in many ways. Not that we get a Death Metal fueled cruncher with growl but it’s still as close to those days that Opeth will ever get, sonically speaking. Bouncy, ballsy and rowdy on a rhythmic foundation, the tune becomes a technical yet aggressive prog-rock-metal blaster that holds a melodic vocal-melody on top. The pre-chorus belts on in a straightforward mode with even bigger metal-vibes, tough and pounding. There’s also an atmospheric, even cinematic spoken-word in Swedish section, where a child comments that there’s not only one God but millions and an adult asking whether the Gods can speak to other. The child answers “no”. Very effective. They also bring back the latin-monk monastery singing that opened the album – a very charismatic and painting soundscape. I’m totally floored here, folks.
“Universal Truth” opens with some backwards played guitars before the song continues on a upbeat, ballad-like note. The verses are slow, atmospheric and a bit laid-back yet with a big soundscape that affects me in almost hypnotic way. The section which, I guess, is supposed to be the refrain is heavier and bombastic and holds a beefy rhythm with big guitars and and an organ/keyboard sound that takes us back to Hard Rock music from the mid 70’s. A smooth section that brings on a folky twist comes in before the song goes into upbeat ballad-like territory again. The tune then ends gracefully on an acoustic note. Another brilliant tune that leaves me with a big, dorky smile on my face.
“The Garroter” starts out with some acoustic guitars which emerges into a piano melody. Then, for a few seconds Axenrot’s drums are all alone before the band comes in and turns the tune into a slow and jazz-laden prog-ballad with a chunky and groovy bass-line signed Mendez. This far, the tune isn’t very direct – and a bit on the spacey and trippy side. There’s also a sullen ambience lying over the whole arrangement but Åkerfeld’s vocal-melody is still very spot-on which mixes the non-directness with some effectivity. The darkness of the song really contrasts its elegance of the melodies which makes this a tune of multiple personalities without losing the direction. It really didn’t stick with me at first but turned out a grower that’s now a highlight of the album for me. Astonishing.
Kicking off with a groovy drum beat, acoustic guitars and some staccato riffing on a somewhat laid-back and mellow note, “Continuum” – still in a slower pace – goes into a heavy and dark Metal meets 70’s Hard Rock territory, very punchy and direct. On top, there’s a vocal-melody that holds some hooky catchiness, which makes for a dynamic contrast and almost sounds wrong but at the same time so right. Powerfully orchestrated and a brilliant solo by Åkesson combined with gentle melodies and rougher edges, the tune is also filed under “grower”. Just like its predecessor, the song needed a few more spins than the rest to stick but when it did, it sure damn stuck. Awesome!
Closing track “All Things Must Pass” holds a slow, laid-back and trippy intro with a late 60’s spaced-out twist. It then turns heavy and slightly gloomy in a slower pace. Pounding and rough, it also welcomes a smooth and soft-ish vocal melody in the verses that’s sung over a steady rhythm section. On the other hand, the refrain is fatter and more intense and in-your-face with a hook-laden melody that makes it even catchy. But we’re talking Opeth here so the catchiness is within their frame – we’re not talking pop-metal here. On top of that, we also get parts that brings on a “Stargazer” (Rainbow) vibe off and on and it needs to be mentioned that no matter if the song is slow and laid-back or heavy and punchy, there’s a groovy rhythm throughout the song. A brilliant track and as a closer, it’s perfect.
Since they have released two versions of the album, I admit that I prefer the English version even though the Swedish one is apparently the “official” one. Even though there are exceptions, I do have issues with Swedish as a singing language and even though Opeth really manages to make their songs work when sung in Swedish, the English version has a better flow lyrically and a slightly different dynamic. Musically, both versions are, of course, equally great and maybe if they hadn’t released an English version, I would have accepted the Swedish lyrics more. However, I’m glad they decided to release two versions.
This, ladies and gents, is a god-damn masterpiece. I have loved all the growl-less records but none of them has reached the high class level of Watershed – or even other favorites like Ghost Reveries (2005) and Still Life (1999) for that matter – but In Cauda Venenum (latin for “poisonous tail”) does. Yes, I have given them all high scores because I thought – and still think – they deserved it but with the new record, I heard right from go that Opeth had delivered something special. I loved every song and the record still kept growing on me – and it still does. Style-wise, it’s Opeth all the way. The band have their own identity and style and the never stray away from that so you know what you’re gonna get but still they manage to be so unpredictable. Swedish or English lyrics, Opeth has released their finest work since Watershed. Pure brilliance!
More Opeth reviews:
1. Garden Of Earthly Delights / Livet’s Trädgård
2. Dignity / Svekets Prins
3. Heart In Hand / Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör
4. Next Of Kin / De Närmast Sörjande
5. Lovelorn Crime / Minnets Yta
7. Universal Truth / Ingen Sanning Är Allas
8. The Garroter / Banemannen
9. Continuum / Kontinuerlig Drift
10. All Things Will Pass / Allting Tar Slut