Review Summary: An uneasy step into new territory, or the beginning of the end?Heritage
is, lest we forget, Opeth's 10th studio album, and 14th major release if live albums are included. It's important to remember that, and also to remember that somebody born when their debut album Orchid
was released can now legally get drunk, smoke, and have sex in most of Europe. Important because it serves as a reminder that Opeth are human - something that Heritage
seems to have shocked a lot of people with.
Opeth, it's fair to say, are one of those bands that people can often subconsciously convince themselves are invincible. Nobody with a scrap of intelligence would ever claim that they're incapable of releasing a bad album (at least not unironically), but there is still a wave of shock among their fans when a sub-par album comes out. Radiohead used to be the same. Tool, too, as well as Public Enemy, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Metallica, The Clash - this is the league Opeth are in, in terms of the irrational devotion they've inspired at various points. That comparison, when extended, turns Heritage
into their Hail to the Thief
, their Load
, their 10,000 Days
, their Any Beatles Solo Album Ever
- the moment when it suddenly became completely obvious that the people behind the music were fallible, and no amount of excuses could cover up the new-found, suddenly glaring shortcomings.
has going for it is that it's at least better than any of those albums. At times it's very nice, as it happens. The general idea behind it is to drive the band into progressive rock territory, abandoning the metal entirely - there are no growled vocals, and all the heavy riffs could just as easily have been written by Robert Fripp as a death metal band. To do that, they've drawn in a few unexpected influences (there are guitar tones on this album lifted straight from the likes of Explosions in the Sky and Yndi Halda; there are moments that could easily pass for 'jazzy' or 'bluesy' in another context) and a few expected ones (Camel, King Crimson). There is even room for an intro that borrows heavily from French Impressionism. A mere retread of Damnation
this is not - despite the protests of some fans, the two albums sound nothing alike, with this being much more classicist (dare I say dated?) and much more in thrall to its influences.
And yet, for the obvious difference in sound, the feel is the same. You might think of that as a advantage, an example of continuity in their catalogue, but instead it's a thorough disappointment, merely an example of a band stuck in their ways. There are countless dynamic shifts, melodic twists, rhythms, and chord progressions that can be traced back to earlier Opeth albums, and it all makes Heritage
sound oddly stale. These tricks, which were once thrilling and arguably haven't yet been properly emulated by any other band, are now a little cliched. If Heritage
was meant to be 'a prog rock album as influenced by Opeth' (the band's words, not mine), then the prog rock band in question would surey have been criticized for being a pastiche at times - the equivalent would be describing Oasis as 'a Britpop band influenced by The Beatles'. 'Influence' isn't the word; at times, Opeth are flat-out ripping themselves off. The fact that they're doing it in a new genre doesn't change that.
And yet for all that, it's still a surprisingly good album. It's not great, nor is it anything special, and that will be a disappointment to anybody listening to a new album by a band that have released at least two bona fide Album of the Year contenders. Criticizing it for not reaching those heights comes naturally, the same way that slating Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
comes much easier than slating something like the Ferrell/Kidman Bewitched
remake, even though it's obvious which one is worse. Expectation does that to you. It's unfair, though - plenty of light shines through the cracks on Heritage
, more than enough to prove that this band isn't a spent force yet. "Heritage" and "Famine" are both very good, and both prove to the naysayers that have followed them since Blackwater Park
that introducing new ideas into the Opeth formula isn't impossible, nor are the band unwilling to do it. It's not like anything here is outright bad, anyway, just surprisingly uninspiring.
should probably be credited as a bold move - with three relatively new band members in tow, a sudden shift in direction away from metal is brave, to say the least. Yet where it should have liberated them, putting them in line with a band like Ulver, it's left the band in a creative cul-de-sac. Their next album is now all-important, because it will define what Heritage
is - it could be a diversion from the norm like Damnation
, or it could be a bold first step into the second phase of their career, or it could be the beginning of the end. Heritage
has enough signs that point to all three for its importance to be a complete mystery at this point. Still, it's a good album, well worth it for the band's fans, and arguably even moreso for prog rockers who've never heard them before; just prepare to be a little bit confused by it.