One of 2014's most anticipated albums is "Pale Communion" by Opeth. Opeth is a band that seems to cause a great division amongst its fans. Some are very much into their progressive side and welcome the twists and turns that the band has taken over the years,
while others are the tried and true metal fans who long for the days of "Blackwater Park," "My Arms, Your Hearse" and the death growls of old. Unfortunately for those fans, Opeth have released another completely progressive rock album. "Pale Communion" is NOT death metal. It's not even progressive metal;
this is pure prog rock. So for fans of the band like me, who welcome anything the band does,
keep reading. The rest should stop reading now! ;)
Opeth still sounds like Opeth regardless of the lack of their older metal style. No one sings like Mikael, and yes, he only
sings on "Pale Communion." Death growls would not have worked at all. There's been speculation as to whether he can
comfortably do death vocals any longer, but I don't think that's the reason. I
think it's a matter of choice and doing a style of music for which he has a passion.
The rest of the band proves they are more than ready for the challenge. The songs tend to be as complex as anything that Opeth has done. Bassist Martin Mendez really showcases his talents throughout "Pale Communion," as does keyboardist Joakim Svalberg, who leads the way on most tracks.
The album opens with the wild jazz intro to "Eternal Rains Will Come," which should scare off anyone who was secretly wishing for a metal album. Once the band settles into the groove of the song, it has one of my favorite keyboard lines on the album, coupled with massive vocal harmonies unlike anything the band has ever tried. Mikael had said this album would be much more melodic than Heritage and it becomes
immediately clear that he wasn't kidding. "Eternal Rains Will Come" has a chorus that you can sing along to and plenty of twists and turns throughout the track to please the progheads.
Next up is the first song released from the album, "Cusp Of Eternity." The main issue that I had with "Heritage" is that it seemed to run and hide from the listener. With this song, Opeth grab you and take you on this Middle Eastern-tinged prog anthem. The chorus of "ahhhhs" will no doubt have people singing whether they want to or not. The guitar solo sounds like a snake charmer, and right after it the band does one of those patented Opeth breaks and emerges from it with a Jon Lord-esque organ blaring from Joakim. Definitely the climax of the song.
The third track "Moon Above, Sun Below" is the longest track and an interesting prog
epic. It starts with a throbbing bass line and eventually more thick harmonies.
Like any good epic, the song has sections and recurring themes to tie it all together. The high point is the a capella section with its lush harmonies. It goes into a gentle acoustic part with vibes, of all things. The end of the song has some very hooky vocals: "Only circles in the water." This song is one of their best epics, and would easily feel right at home on "Watershed."
The fourth track, "Elysian Woes," would sound right at home on the album "Damnation." It has same arrangement as that album: acoustic guitars, soaked with mellotron,
a quiet vibe and a mournful tone. If you love "Damnation" like I do, you'll enjoy this song. It's definitely a nod to the past but still fits nicely on this album. This song points out that Opeth have always been about progressive rock.
The song "Goblin" is an instrumental, which makes it unique in the Opeth canon. The song kept its demo name which is from the Italian prog
group Goblin. It serves as a fitting tribute to one of Mikael's favorite groups. The song is an all-out prog freakout led, of course, by Joakim's keys. I think this might be the song that pisses off the old-school metalheads the most.
probably my personal favorite track on "Pale Communion." How often does a song
go from a southern rock vibe to jazz to prog? It really is a mini epic with
different parts and sections. I suppose the song itself is like a river,
starting bright and calm with a decidedly southern rock tone, right up to one of
the best guitar solos coupled with my all-time favorite Mendez bass line. From
there, the river turns and gets rough. Eventually Fredrik and Mikael trade solos
and end in a brief unison. The song as a whole reminds me of Wishbone Ash, perhaps "Time Was" off of "Argus."
The next track "Voice of Treason" is also quite different. I guess I should just say that about each song. One of the strengths of "Pale Communion" is that each song has its own identity and tends to be unique within the entire Opeth discography. "Voice of Treason" has verses that are propelled by strings that duplicate the bass line with NO guitars! Why? The guitars show up suddenly during the chorus and smack you in the face. It's not heavy, but it is rock nonetheless. Toward the end, the song climaxes with the guitars and keyboards playing in unison. Then Mendez joins in as well, with Joakim adding some organ to support Axe's drumming
- which, by the way, is stellar throughout the album.
The closing track is the orchestrated "Faith in Others." My hope for this song is that one day the band plays a gig with an orchestra so it can be played properly live. Similar to "Cusp of Eternity," the song has a wordless chorus.
This time it's "ooooh" which will have the listener singing along after a couple of spins. As the track winds down, the orchestra closes out the song and album in a peaceful, beautiful fashion.
and packaging are top notch, courtesy of the very talented Travis Smith. It ranks as possibly his best overall work. Absolutely stunning! The production is by Mikael with the mix provided by Steven Wilson, as usual. The sound
quality is so good that they sound like they're in the room with you. Listening with headphones, you will pick up all the quieter, subtle moments like the keyboards in the intro of "Eternal Rains."
Speaking of keyboards, the MVP of the album has to be Joakim who plays just
about every type of keyboard on the album: from piano, to organ, to vibes, to
mellotron. He adds a deep knowledge of how each instrument should sound and how
each should be played.
"Pale Communion" is a masterpiece. It will probably alienate as many people as it pleases.
It is easily one of the best progressive rock albums that I have been fortunate
enough to listen to, and will vie for my favorite album of 2014.