Review Summary: Heritage is not as refined as previous albums, yet Opeth’s willingness to boldly experiment foreshadows future success.
Progression is a peculiar and divisive musical concept. Musicians constantly are attempting to progress their capacity and efforts, while fans have seemingly infinite amounts of debatable opinions on what progression actually denotes. With “observation” Heritage, Opeth has progressed into something entirely…expected, yet still intriguing.
Mikael Akerfeldt has always expressed his profound interest for 70’s progressive rock in his music. Various softly sung, jazzy/bluesy passages have peppered their way across all of Opeth’s discography. With Heritage, however, Mikael’s signature death growls are abandoned, along with the dissonant guitar riffs that accompanied them. In their place are more frequent jazzy guitar lines and softly sung vocals. To say the music never climbs up a notch would be ludicrous though; distorted and progressive guitar lines enter most of the songs’ forefronts quite commonly. The aptly dark, wall-of sound segment in “I Feel the Dark,” and the upbeat ruthlessness of “Slither” are great examples.
The individual efforts on this album are undeniably superb. Martin Mendez often carries parts of the album with tasteful, groovy bass lines that do more than compliment the guitar (most notably in “The Lines in My Hand”). However, percussionist Martin Axenrot is astounding. Heritage is his breakthrough album; the drums are a constant force with a newfound progressive quirkiness that was completely unexpected out of a guy who previously abused the blast-beat. Of course, Mikael Akerfeldt delivers the goods with top-notch leads and riffs, accompanied with stellar clean vocals. The deficiency of death growls is unnerving at first, but it does fit the new style like a glove.
For all the incredible efforts by the musicians, however, there are several glaring issues with this album. There is a clear lack of cohesiveness within many songs, as many transitions are weak or just don’t exist at all (instanced in “I Feel the Dark”). Furthermore, most of the songs do not reach satisfying climaxes. Fortunately, this is partially rectified by the excellent individual moments within the songs. If the moments were just better placed and connected though, this album would have been truly excellent.
Interestingly enough, where Heritage truly succeeds are the moments that are farthest from the Watershed sound. “Nepenthe,” “Haxprocess,” and “Marrow of the Earth” provide soothing soundscapes that envelop listeners with captivating bass lines and guitar melodies. The more upbeat “Slither” and “The Lines in My Hand” arrive at pivotal points, breaking up the slower songs. “Folklore” is a true masterpiece by Mikael and Co.; entertaining acoustic guitar leads dominate the first half of the song, but it really shines with an amazing Camel-influenced piece near the end. It is unfortunate that all of the songs do not prosper with the same ingenuity; songs like “The Devil’s Orchard” and “Famine” unnervingly herald back to Watershed-esque musical concepts and feel loose with no climax. They are outdated and stale compared to the more experimental, enjoyable songs.
Overall, this is a enjoyable record. It doesn’t meet the standard of excellence that previous albums hold up to, but it is inspiring and exciting due to riveting songs like “The Lines in My Hand” and “Folklore.” Heritage is not as refined as previous albums, yet Opeth’s willingness to boldly experiment foreshadows future success.