Review Summary: Like a jaunty old clock that leans ever so slightly to the right.
In a perfect world, there’d be an Opeth album every year. Given the fact that this little Swedish band has held such a high standard in the world of rock and heavy metal (easily given in any context where Blackwater Park
is mentioned) and the group’s controversial, but still welcome exploration into prog-filled rock soundscapes, the last thirty years of Opeth filled music has stood (and will largely stand) absolute in the face of time. Sweeping sentences aside, whatever the direction these Swedish masters have taken with their music they’ve still delivered the goods... in varying degrees. In Cauda Venenum
(loosely translated to Poison In The Tail
) continues Opeth’s trend for insightful, invigorating music, but is more straight-forward and singularly dimensional – making it the band’s best and most accessible studio effort post-Heritage.
Despite the criticisms of a death metal band not making death metal anymore (c’mon guys that was so 2011…), the musical direction of a jaunty Heritage
unveiled no growls and a distinct lack of anything related to the mid-2000s Opeth that fans had come to love. Sure, it was still Opeth with its noodle-based, progressive often jazz-inspired mysticism that paid direct homage to an era of music steeped in folkened-faux achromatic psychedelic rock. If nothing else, Heritage
was the new statement for everything Mikael Akerfeldt and co. In short, Opeth made the music they wanted to make.
When we wind things forwards a few years, Opeth’s Sorceress
keeps the backwards-forward thinking love child of eclectic progressive rock into newer modern realms listeners shouldn’t really be surprised that their newest record would have as much of the same impact as the founding sounds that came before it. In Cauda Venenum
is everything we should expect from Opeth come 2019; the flamboyant, often brave innovations define a modern day Opeth and despite the straight-forward first impressions, In Cauda Venenum
is both ambitious and widely enjoyable.
In Cauda Venenum
kicks things off in a rather sensual mood. Mikael’s croons quickly seduce, pouring syrup on “All Things Will Pass”. But at the track’s core is a foundation of proto-occult rock, lending itself to an almost operatic arena flair. The musical combinations here are simple and well delivered, but at times deceive the listener into a ‘safe’ line of thinking too early in the album’s overall run-time. “Charlatan” however twists the spider’s web back towards the eccentric and wildly hypnotic ‘Heritage-meets-Sorceress’ autonomy. The track itself is playful, and defies the openly candid approach found in the opener with some of the band’s heaviest moments “since they went soft” (seriously guys, time to move on).
As the album runs its natural course the sheer brilliance of this Swedish quintet unveils sweetly, rather than knocking the wind out of it’s listeners. The album’s lead single, “Heart In Hand” is but one example of Opeth’s tendency to un-quietly, yet quietly achieve on rock steady formulas and in turn, add healthy doses of all things progressive. Frankly, the track just sounds like a “good ol’ time” as Åkesson offers a running base of riff-work for Svalberg’s lush key sections, before launching into a tastefully blistering guitar solo.
What misgivings In Cauda Venenum
has normally comes in Mikael’s over-the-top vocals. Thankfully it’s not something that happens all the time, with his efforts showcasing experience in majority, but it’s the occasional inconsistencies that topple atmosphere and in rarer instances, create audible cringe. Despite this, most listeners can dismiss it as pensive experimentation – a couple of hiccups made less important by the bigger picture… in fact, they’re probably right. Frankly, the band that still explores on their sound thirty years on is more valuable than a group gone stale thirty years ago. As listeners, we don’t only forgive Mikael’s vocal nuances, but support his evolution in whatever form it comes - but we’re not about to forget they exist.
As a whole, In Cauda Venenum
is another firm acclimation into the progressive world of Opeth. With highlights aplenty, the group’s 2019 piece is well-worth the hype. In Cauda Venenum
is a bridging of sounds between the worlds of Damnation
and newer offerings such as Pale Communion
. Despite the references to a more “straight-forward” sounding Opeth, all the key components that make this Swedish group still remain firmly planted in the band’s soundscape. The days of Blackwater Park
may be gone, but Opeth’s talent in music will apparently stick around a bit longer.