As I was watching Opeth’s ‘Blackwater Park’ Making of DVD, I couldn’t but notice an important statement by Martin Lopez when he said that with Mikael Åkerfeldt, you learn more than playing fast, you learn finesse. True enough, 10 years after Blackwater Park, Opeth present their most complex and sophisticated work to date, an acquired taste under the name “Heritage”.
After reading several interviews with the band, it’s important to mention that they believe that ‘Heritage’ is essential to the evolution and future existence of Opeth. In my opinion, that didn’t surprise me at all: the Jazz moods and unorthodox song structure have in some way or another been a part of the band’s unique sound, but this album just takes things to an advanced level of creativity, experimentation and musicianship. Having said that, the rhythm section on this album is exquisitely beautiful. If you thought Martin Axenrot was superb on ‘Watershed’, he really excels on this album, with a masterful display of both taste and technique. Bassist Martin Mendez shines throughout the album, rightfully earning an essential part in the overall mood with his best work ever. The guitar work is fresh and creative, with no Death Metal riffs on any song and no dull moments. Mikael’s clean vocals keep getting better and better with the years, and the lack of growls is by no means a bad aspect on this record.
The overall production of the album gives it a unique raw sound, and is at times surprisingly better than say the production style on ‘Ghost Reveries’ or ‘Watershed’, more accurate and real, and less atmospheric in terms of adding several layers on top of one another. They were definitely going for less distortion and as guitarist Fredrik Akesson stated in an interview with loudwire.com (full interview here): “we turned down the distortion a bit, so we get more of a stringy kind of sound instead of hiding behind the wall of distortion.”
This 10th observation by Opeth runs at 1 hour long with a Swedish Folk influenced grand piano intro, and a mellow outro with a Jazzy gloomy mood. The influences behind the music can be linked to King Crimson, Rush, Weather Report, 70’s Prog Rock and Jazz. These might not be the most easy-to-listen to influences, mainly because of a composing style that doesn’t follow the standard song progression, but that’s what makes it innovative and unusual.
The songs took a few listens to really sink in, but my initial overall impression was more than positive. I felt that Opeth were taking their music to new heights, a comforting and brave step after 20 years of activity and 10 albums! Songs like ‘Folklore’ and ‘Häxprocess’ have wonderful Jazz grooves mixed with a dark vibe that can only be characterized as Opeth. Fusion-like guitar on ‘Nepenthe’, percussion and flute on ‘Famine’, and remarkable mellotrone/piano sections are all essential milestones on this record. The way I see it, if you’re used to listening to Jazz Fusion and if you really know what Opeth is really about, ‘Heritage’ will not be as shocking as some fans describe it. On the contrary, this is Opeth adding more sophistication to their music, reaching a sound that they’ve been wanting to explore since their debut ‘Orchid’, and I think it’s something they can look back on 10 years from now and feel proud and accomplished.
It took 20 years for Opeth to finally reach the sound they’ve been aiming for, and the way I see it, ‘Heritage’ is the 1st observation of many that’ll keep this Swedish band’s stature as an international reference of real Progressive music.