Review Summary: Not Opeth on acid, just Opeth mimicking some guys on acid.
You can choose to mar Opeth's recent releases for any number of reasons, but when you boil it all down, the reason Heritage
and now Pale Communion
aren't well-accepted by Akerfeldt and company's long-standing fanbase is because neither is an Opeth album. Yes, yes, they're "Opeth" albums, but they're not Opeth
albums. There's absolutely some cool stuff on the classic prog-turnabout of Heritage
and Pale Communion
, but neither deliver on promises made and self-fulfilled by Ghost Reveries
. Sure, Mikael is entitled to do whatever he well pleases, but the Opeth of 2014 is little more than Opeth's mildly self-influenced prog side-gig and it feels foolish to deny that. Whether that will last the rest of Opeth's already storied carriers or not remains to be seen, but for the immediate interim, we need to accept that the latest "Opeth" album is not great, and the aforementioned doppelganger hypothesis has a lot to play into it because:
We love Opeth
, not "Opeth."
is a band that brought us a dark and appropriately austere death metal sound that could conjure up the ghosts in your closet and incite them against you all while simultaneously drowning you in the placid despair of a folk-based acoustic passage. Akerfeldt would cast his voice as the roaring shadow beckoning you to embrace the darkness or as an angelic light guiding you out of the shade... if only for a moment. While some of the mellifluous harmonies we've come to expect out of the big man are present on Pale Communion
, that rich floor of merciless anguish is raised to a platform of mediocre crooning that simply doesn't create the same voluminous space Opeth need to develop the same sort of complex narrative we've heard on past albums.
With lower vocal and musical headroom it just doesn't happen in the same way. The magic of Opeth
gives way to the prog bearings of "Opeth." And sure, we'd herald them if it were any other band, but for Opeth? There's just a sad sense of gothic magic that's had its black candlelight flame blown out by a hippie's bong smoke pervading the album. "Moon Above, Sun Below" probably comes closest to recapturing that magic with its monotone chant, strained calling, and very Opeth
vibe to its hand-off from free flowing (hard) rock solos to medieval sounding acoustic passages, but in the end it's still not the authentic product.
Tracks like "Goblin" feel like '70s prog ripoffs that Opeth
are better than, while "River" feels like some sort of Woodstock jam that's simply foreign amid the rest of Opeth's finer works. "Eternal Rains Will Come" strikes as one of few memorable tracks on Pale Communion
and it's not hard to see why - it and "Moon Above, Sun Below" bear the brunt of Opeth's historical sound on this album, while the relevance of much of the rest is gone with the wind.
Was this expected after Heritage
? Sure - but does that make it any more acceptable? Certainly not. This is a well-defined, if experimental group that's somehow gone back to a school of musical thought that was prevalent forty plus years ago. We've come to expect forward thinking from Opeth - experimentation, combining genres in new and exciting ways, playing on your expectations of the dark with the light and vice versa, but what we get from Pale Communion
is mostly a second full delving into a theory of the past with little to be said for innovation. So, sure, it's a solid prog album, but it's boring
because, well, let's face it, if you're looking to do something new, you don't rip off something old.