Sweden's Opeth deliver their greatest album yet with "Pale Communion". Never a group to settle for what's trendy, they constantly push the boundaries of sound and the perception of what is metal. 'Pale Communion' is a lush, incredibly arranged album that will leave you awestruck and inspired at its end. Leading up to the release, vocalist/guitarist/founder Mikael Akerfeldt stated that fans would really need to be open minded with this record, that it wouldn't be what fans had traditionally come to expect from the band. If you look back at Opeth's career, you can see that the band has evolved further and further with each release, moving away from the more blackened death fused metal that they started out playing to venturing into more progressive realms. With 'Pale Communion', Opeth has fully immersed themselves in progressive and the result is simply amazing.
Opener "Eternal Rains Will Come" begins with a fuzzy bass line with what sounds like a Hammond organ behind it before the drums and the guitars kick in. Then out of nowhere the music fades out and a lone piano comes in followed by a very clean guitar harmony. Then the fuzzy bass and organ return and Akerfeldt's dulcet tones begin to ooze into your essence. This track is full of a more progressive musical arrangement than Opeth have previously followed and the instrument tones and Akerfeldt's vocals are fluid and atmospheric.
"Cusp of Eternity", the first single off the album, has a very heavy 70's vibe to it. Think The Doors meets Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The solo in this song has a very Kansas type feel to it with the backing organ blaring away in the background. "Moon Above, Sun Below" is the longest track on the album, clocking in at almost eleven minutes. The opening drums have a tribal feel to them and once again the organ features prominently in this song. The beginning of the track is like a sing-along at points, with Akerfeldt's vocals echoing over top of each other. At about the two minute mark, the tempo drastically slows down and Akerfeldt's clean, melodious vocals steal the spotlight. The jazzy guitar tone and the soothing acoustic rhythm guitar makes it almost otherwordly at times. As the song carries on, there are more tempo changes making this song is probably one of the most interesting tracks on the album.
Up next is "Elysian Woes", which sounds like a song that could have easily earned a spot on 'Damnation' with its rich, acoustic progression. "Goblin" is an instrumental intermission, almost like a palate cleanser so to speak. "River" is easily my favorite track off the album. The guitars are a bit like a good Southern Rock ballad and Akerfeldt's falsetto vocals, though shaky at times, are bone chillingly incredible. To me, this is the epitome and the gem of this album. The final two songs provide what is probably the starkest difference of the album as a whole. Up to this point the record has been more subdued and progressive. "Voice of Treason" is easily the heaviest song on the album but not in the sense of it being a return to their death metal style. The subdued keyboard intro throws you off for a second but then the keyboards and backing orchestration create a faux-guitar riff with their chantings. The sitar sounding guitar at the two minute mark gives the album a worldly feel and once the whole band kicks in, it is essentially on for the song to continue growing in its heaviness.
Album closer "Faith in Others" may have the most catchy chorus and main riff that I've ever heard on an Opeth album. The soothing classical intro with jazzy drums and bass line ease you into this track while Akerfeldt's vocals wrap you in a warm blanket of comfort. The instrumental backing that becomes the hummed basis of the chorus throughout the track is just effectively simplistic and this track finishes the album off in incredible sophistication and style.
Fans of the band who have not yet warmed to the group's more progressive tendencies of late, will no doubt find flaws everywhere with this album. But remember this, 'Pale Communion' is undoubtedly an Opeth album. And being an Opeth album, it's an endeavor that challenges you to expand your horizons and be open minded to what the band's interpretation of metal is. The bottom line is that we, as Opeth fans, enjoy whatever effort the band puts out, be it death metal or more progressive styled metal.
The production on this album is absolutely perfect as it was handled by Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. A long-time friend and collaborator of the band, Wilson's own style is similar to this album and so it was second nature to him in producing it. 'Pale Communion' is one of those albums that showcase a band's growth and desire to try new things and doing it in the same flawless way that all their other albums have been executed.
One for the ages, 'Pale Communion' is fast becoming my favorite album of this year and possibly my favorite Opeth album of all time.
About this Writer: Greg Watson // Greg Watson has been hooked on the loud and heavy sounds since the summer of 1994 when he first heard the opening notes of "Operation: Mindcrime" by Queensryche. Since then his tastes have expanded and grown like the ever evolving heavy metal tree of genres. He has been an active member of Maximum Metal off and on for 10 years. In his spare time, Greg enjoys deciding the fate of his loyal subjects in the realm of Skyrim and secretly playing air keyboard to "Separate Ways" by Journey when no one is watching. He currently resides in Roanoke, VA with his wife and his metal wannabe beagle.
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