Opeth - Pale Communion
Inventive songwriting and fusion-led chops lead 11th album from ambitious Swedish metallers
Opeth and their principal songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt have balls. Big balls. When your calling card is crunching metal and death growls, turning the distortion dial down and going almost 70s prog is pretty risky. But this band had the chutzpah to do exactly that with 2011's excellent Heritage and now they've only gone and done it again – with even more panache – with Pale Communion, the Swedish quintet's 11th album.
Opeth have always had diversity, previously injecting guttural metal with elegant, melancholic interludes, but it seems on this eight-track offering there's something for everyone to grab onto. Hell, there are even shades of country. Opener 'Eternal Rains Will Come' sets the pace keenly, instantly catapulting into adroit, fusion-led chops before going 70s with big keyboards and lush vocal harmonies, whilst the ten-minute opus 'Moon Above, Sun Below' follows suit by slithering through passages of gruff rock and off-kilter lulls.
It can be difficult to encapsulate guitarist and vocalist Akerfeldt's brilliantly inventive songwriting; it sprawls through entire libraries of wistful notes, finding the right melody just about every time. This album is dripping with the hooky stuff; acoustic 'Elysian Woes' is a folky haze, whilst the old-school prog nods in groovy instrumental 'Goblin' are definite earworms. And then there's 'River'. Perhaps the most contentious song Opeth's die-hard metal fans will have to digest, it features a happy sounding – yes, that's right, happy – plucked intro that's reminiscent of arena icons Alter Bridge before it drops into a country/70s pop-rock hybrid. Is this the same band that coined 1998's metal typhoon 'Demon of the Fall'? Indeed it is, and that's what makes this band's evolution so enchanting.
There's still the crepuscular bleakness and hard edges – 'Cusp of Eternity' is this record's flag-bearer for riffs – but the grand, cinematic closer 'Faith in Others', featuring an orchestrated string section, sums it all up. There's an ever-increasing amount of colour on Opeth's palette, and despite having been conceived in 1990, they're on the form of their lives.