Effortlessly blazing a trail encompassing brutal death metal, British folk and classic progressive rock, Mikael Åkerfeldt has led Opeth through many bold new directions and transcended genre boundaries for the band’s entire career. That 2011’s Heritage (Roadrunner Records) saw Opeth forgo the heavier end of the spectrum was for many a bitter pill to swallow. Whereas previous prog masterpiece Damnation was bookended with a heavier companion in Deliverance, Heritage saw Åkerfeldt indulging influences such as Comus and King Crimson in a fastidious and stubborn fashion claiming freedom from the restrictions of metal.
Fast forward three years and Pale Communion (also Roadrunner Records) is, in many ways a continuation of such a direction, but one that see’s Mikael’s uncompromising view drawing more clearly into focus.
Harking back again to the late 60s and early 70s this eleventh studio opus features fluid dexterous drum patterns, moody distorted organ work and another all clean and highly proficient performance in the vocal department. Where Heritage felt somewhat disjointed on occasion Pale Communion is richly woven into a tapestry of ornate and complex elements rather than flitting from one genre to the next.
‘River’ is perhaps the most surprising moment this time around drawing on the southern sounds of the likes of the Allman Brothers with the addition of a classic Rush middle section. It’s the bravest and most refreshing moment herein, unearthing yet another string to the Swedes’ substantial bow.
Largely a more cohesive work than its predecessor, there is a moment of overindulgence in instrumental centrepiece ‘Goblin’ could have been left on the cutting room floor. Though a tribute to the Italian horror soundtrack masters, it feels ill-fitting and out of place.
Far better is the albums longest moment the undulating ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ a perplexing beast which keeps you guessing while again highlighting the morose beauty of Mikael’s vocals.
“I don’t want to bare my scars for you” opines Åkerfeldt on the graceful ‘Elysian Woes’. It’s a sentiment which is echoed in the fiercely uncompromising approach he has taken to producing music that truly challenges the listener. Hell bent on reinvention, this is another collection of finely crafted salvos from this prestigious group.