With Heritage, Opeth have crafted a love ode of sorts to 70s prog, which is both the charm, and the problem with the record. At points, you'll swear you're listening to King Crimson, Jethro Tull, or even "Gates Of Babylon" by Rainbow. Fortunately, the album has enough of Opeth's trademark sound to not be totally derivative. Tucked between the many throwbacks to the 70s are some of the elements we've always expected from the band, like elaborate riffs, melodic clean vocals, and haunting acoustic passages.
I have to hand it to Opeth for surprising us once again. Most people expected this album to be somewhat of a "Damnation Part II," but it's a different beast entirely, featuring a starker and less focused sound. It's definitely an album that's hard to get into, requiring both many listens, and and understanding of the band's history to appreciate. Still, many Opeth fans who have given the album a fair chance find it to be an unnecessarily obtuse and demanding listen. I would place myself into this camp, finding the whole affair to be disjointed, meandering, and downright boring.
Let me clarify that I'm a huge fan of progressive music. I love it when a band can defy conventional songwriting, execute dramatic changes in tempo, and make the whole thing sound seamless and natural. Opeth have consistently done this in the past, but failed to do it here. The whole record strikes me as a collage of half-realized ideas, connected in the laziest manner possible. Vamps and grooves fade away just as you're getting into them, only to be replaced by tedious sections of noodling and ambience. Ideas stop and start abruptly, like the suddenly truncated conga part on "Famine", or second half of "I Feel The Dark," which begins with a keyboard noise so random, most people mistake it for the beginning of a new track. "Haxprocess" epitomizes the album's poor songwriting, consisting of little more than a two minute song with extended periods of wankery on each side. Its predecessor "Nepenthe" follows a similar formula, but at least has the courtesy to provide a drum beat on the outro.
And then there's "Folklore," which is perhaps the most embarrassing song Opeth have ever written. I recognize that there's a degree of tongue-in-cheek humor to this album, especially considering the cover art, but was it really necessary to mimic "Gates Of Babylon" and include the lyric "feel the pain in your brain, insane"" I would not expect this caliber of silliness from Mikael Akerfeldt, who's usually as plaintive and mysterious as they come. It makes me wonder if he intended this album as more of a prog parody than a prog homage.
Intentions aside, the bottom line is that Heritage fails to hold my interest. Though the direction is bold and the musicianship impressive, I find it to be an extremely trying listen once the nostalgic appeal of mellotrons and Hammond organs fades away.
• The Devil's Orchard
• The Lines In My Hand
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