I'm going to assume that most of you know a bit about Opeth. Whether you like them or not, you have to admit their importance as one of the most influential metal bands of the last twenty years. Since the release of the groundbreaking "Orchid" in 1995, they have constantly pushed their unique brand of progressive death metal in ever new and surprising directions, freely adding hints of folk, jazz, progressive rock, and whatever else mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt wants to play. Within this paradigm, they have carved out their own very specialized niche in the world of metal. However, Opeth has never been known to shy away from experimentaion (see 2003's mellowed-out "Damnation"), and their latest offering, "Heritage," marks another rather dramatic shift in their sound.
First of all, Mikael's growls are gone. This is not an unprecedented move; he has already written an album (again, "Damnation") with no death growls. But "Heritage" is most certainly not another "Damnation." Opeth has opted this time to go for a "retro" progressive rock sound, featuring mellotron, hammond organ, and album artwork bearing an uncanny resemblance to that of the Moody Blues's "In Search of the Lost Chord." Their experimental side is restless as ever, featuring songs that switch, in traditional Opethian fashion, from quiet folky sections, to heavy riffing, to modern-jazzy bits, and back again, bringing me to my next point: "Heritage" is not really a huge departure from the Opeth of the past. Despite the notable changes in sound, many of the elements that made Opeth so important in the first place are still there. One could almost say that they have merely substituted progressive rock for progressive death metal, changing relatively little compared to what they did on "Damnation."
But, you may be wondering, how good is "Heritage" as an album? Will I find it worth my time and money? This is a rather difficult question; not only is Opeth an infamous divider of opinions, but their new sound has thrown another rather formidable wrench into the whole mix. In general, I found it to be a strong album, though perhaps not as focused as it could have been. The songwriting is all over the place, from the jazzy "Nepenthe" to the hard-rocking Dio tribute "Slither," and this can be both a good thing and a bad thing. While it makes for an interesting listen, it also costs the album a bit of artistic cohesion; it seems more like a collection than a single cohesive piece. In a way, "Heritage" plays like a debut album, and perhaps it is a debut album of sorts - Opeth is exploring some new musical territory, and although "Heritage" is perhaps less polished than we are used to, it also displays a great deal of creative vitality.
That said, those who find Opeth to be tedious and boring will certainly not be won over, and those who like Opeth as a death metal band will find little of value here. "Heritage" marks an important and decisive turning point for Opeth, and it will probably not sink in easily. However, it is a well-written album, and a respectable addition to Opeth's catalogue.
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Morpheus's Rating: 3.75/5