Review Summary: Renewed inspiration makes Opeth’s latest their best since Heritage.
In typically unpredictable fashion, Opeth have established an unexpected new phase of their existence this past decade. They controversially shed their unique brand of metal that earned them high praise through the 2000s with Heritage
, and thus began a new journey into the realm of folkish progressive rock and a more traditional approach to hard rock and heavy metal. This new style has wavered between new sounds and innovation, and drawing inspiration from groups like King Crimson, Yes, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and countless others.
The releases following Heritage
were solid, but the songwriting in places felt more straightforward and less unique than usual. In Cauda Venenum
continues this phase while correcting some of those pitfalls along the way. The album thankfully brings back a punchier sound reminiscent of Ghost Reveries
while continuing in the trajectory of where the band are now. “Garden of Earthly Delights” lulls the listener in with a hypnotic electronic throbbing and field recordings, something the band have never done before. It doesn’t last long though, as it transitions into the explosive intro of “Dignity,” a more traditional example of what Opeth bring to the table in the 2010s. Vintage riffing, acoustic guitar strumming, and soloing occur before calming down at a serene bridge section that sounds like a soundtrack to a medieval storybook. Things gets loud again and builds to an almost operatic finale, with the track laying out all the different moods the album has to offer in one surprisingly cohesive six-minute song.
One of the longest the album has to offer, “Heart in Hand” is next, launching with one of the most wickedly heavy intros the band have recorded in quite some time. The epic continues in this fashion until a deliciously psychedelic bridge that ends too soon. The track closes with an acoustic outro not dissimilar to a slightly more optimistic take on the style from Damnation
. Only three songs in, the band are already displaying their best qualities and sound self-assured and compelling without any awkwardness to be found. While not sounding like their classic period from the turn of the century, those strengths are felt and harnessed in an exciting new way.
contained some offbeat, at times disjointed sensibilities that were able to achieve more unpredictability than the straightforward Pale Communion
, but In Cauda Venenum
is able to maintain the rewarding and unpredictable qualities of it while improving the songwriting and feeling more inspired overall. The production and mixing is also at its best and fullest since the 2000s records. A whole host of ideas are explored throughout, with more of a lush, orchestral presence similar to “Hessian Peel” and “Faith in Others.” “Lovelorn Crime” for example uses varied instrumentation to sound like a lost Victorian-era prog rock ballad. “Continuum” sounds massive as it traverses some classic Opeth moments before ending with a soaring, mysterious sounding outro and some of Akerfeldt’s best singing of the album. “Universal Truth” is Opethian majesty at its finest, with enchanting acoustic work and swaying string melodies that recall the atmosphere of Heritage
. This music feels like it was dreamed up in another time or world while blended with the imagination of these musicians that are always intent on exploring new musical realms.
Despite all the impressive elements to be enjoyed, there are some experiments that don’t fully succeed. “Charlatan” is an exercise in bombasity and indulges in the band’s penchant for sometimes going over the top in their newer albums, in this case with Meshuggah-esque guitar riffing and prog wankery for four straight minutes. They thankfully kept it brief, and the track can be an entertaining listen when one is in the right mood. Other moments on the album go overboard as well, and Mikael Akerfeldt’s more recent penchant for oversinging crops up from time to time, despite him being an excellent vocalist in general.
Many elements give In Cauda Venenum
a good case for the link between Watershed
. A higher level of ambition and a confident balance of the various changes in tone is felt all over the record. While not all of the flaws from the new Opeth are gone, the band are giving their full effort and showing off how creative they have always been, and still are without doubt. Renewed inspiration and a fine balance between the dark and light sides of Opeth’s music make In Cauda Venenum
their best work since Heritage