Review Summary: Their most focused since Ghost Reveries
Even if Opeth’s thirteenth full-length album hadn’t been recorded in both English and Swedish, it would still be among their most ambitious efforts to date. Coming off the playful heavy psych stylings of 2016’s Sorceress, In Cauda Venenum takes the band’s signature prog in a decidedly more theatrical direction. The hour-plus runtime is the lengthiest since their death metal days and the music is some of their heaviest in about as long, though you’ll have to keep looking if you’re still holding out for any death growls.
Opeth are no strangers to grandiosity and have a couple concept albums to their name, but they’ve never sounded as cinematic as they do on here. This is established right away with the extended ambiance of the opening “Garden of Earthly Delights” and fleshed out with the spoken segments placed throughout. These elements can seem a little superfluous at times, especially as a non-Swedish speaker, but they reinforce a sense of direction and throw in shades of mystery.
It's also hard to remember a time when their musicianship and overall dynamic sounded this bombastic. Much of this has to do with Dave Stewart's swelling orchestrations emboldening the atmospheric organs and pianos, but the guitars also throw in some of their heaviest riffs in over a decade along with the usual acoustics and proggy leads. The drums also continue to show off the jazzy flair that has become synonymous with this era and the vocal performance is quite dramatic regardless of your lingual preference.
Seeing how my personal appreciation of Opeth’s recent works depends heavily on the songwriting quality, it’s great to see this album deliver some great tracks. The structures are as haphazard as ever, but a sense of purpose and engaging melodies keep the songs from reaching that 'cobbled together' feeling that I often associate with Mikael Akerfeldt's songwriting method. This is perhaps best demonstrated by “Lovelorn Crime” and “Charlatan” as the former’s Watershed-era balladry transitions into the latter’s crunchy swagger quite nicely. “Heart in Hand” and “Universal Truth” also make for exhilarating highlights and I like the slinky jazz character of “The Garroter.”
That said, an hour runtime can make for a bloated experience overall even if the songs themselves are efficient. The opening segment does a good job of setting up the album’s atmosphere, but the instrumental introduction on “Dignity” can make it seem rather redundant. The last two tracks could've also been cut though neither is bad by any means.
Overall, In Cauda Venenum is the most focused that Opeth has sounded since 2005’s Ghost Reveries. It’s easy to dismiss the framework as superficial and I do find myself wondering if I’d appreciate this album as much if the English version was all we had to work with, but there is no denying how much these elements strengthen the band’s songwriting. Some listeners will never be convinced by Opeth’s prog rock era but the songs here are engaging enough for me to take notice. At the very least, it’s nice to know that Pale Communion wasn’t a fluke.
“Hjartat Vet Va Handen Gor/Heart in Hand”
“MInnets Yta/Lovelorn Crime”
“Ingen Sanning Ar Allas/Universal Truth”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com