Did you ever see one of those movies or shows where the premise is a group of people are offered a large sum of money, or something else of value, if they are able to stay a whole night in a haunted house? That’s what I think of when listening to “Heritage”, the new album by Opeth. Let me spin this yarn for you.
I’m thinking the guys in Opeth pull up to this spooky haunted mansion in the Mystery Machine (Scooby, Shaggy and the gang lent it to them for touring purposes) and a mysterious stranger offers them shelter for the night, and if they can stay the whole night they will receive the key to the “The Greatest Song in the World” (Naturally, Jack Black is creeping around in the bushes outside trying to find his way into the house. But after being foiled several times he eventually settles on writing a tribute to the ultimate song.)
So the Opeth guys confer among themselves and decide to have a go at staying the night. What they don’t know is that the house is haunted by the ghosts of a 70s progressive rock band that died there while recording what would have been their magnum opus. Much to their initial dismay, at the stroke of midnight, the Opeth band members are possessed by the spirits of the deceased prog rockers and forced to record the album the ghosts never got to finish. However, being that Opeth are of course musicians themselves, the recordings retain some of the personality and style of the living band members meshed together with the prog rock sensibilities of the spectral musicians.
The resulting collection of songs turns out to be rather unique. The 70s progressive rock influence of the ghosts is the dominating element, but at the same time the songs retain a contemporary production style and some heavy metal riffage influenced by the living hosts. Opeth eventually realize that the ghost dudes are pretty cool after all and decide to go ahead and release the album. While some fans are confused by the style change, the elite fans of the bands dig it and eventually, after changing the band name to Wyld Stallyns, their songs bring about world peace.
Ok, so I may never make it as a screenwriter (not without getting sued at any rate). But some of what I just wrote does really reflect how I feel about “Heritage”. To me it does have a slightly sinister creepy vibe about it. Not evil creepy necessarily, but old and maybe a little supernatural creepy.
Also, like “Damnation” before it, “Heritage” departs greatly from the Opeth death metal sound fans have come to expect and love. “Damnation” was the first album to dispense with death metal and use all clean vocals and clean guitars. “Heritage” bridges the gap between “Damnation” and the rest of the Opeth catalogue by utilizing clean vocals and prog rock elements as well as distorted heavy metal riffs. Now, the distorted guitars are not the massive crunchy kind you find in death metal, but are more understated like you find with recent stoner/doom metal bands (and in 70s rock). So I guess I would maybe call “Heritage” a stoner prog metal album?
Whatever you want to call it and no matter how you feel about the style change, this is still 100% Opeth. You can never please everyone, so there will certainly be those who will dislike the style of “Heritage” but I’m sure most Opeth fans are going to eat this up. Will they ever return to a heavier death metal style with harsh vocals? Who can say?
There was a rumor I heard that Mikael Akerfeldt had hurt his voice doing the harsh vocals and would be unable to continue in that style, but that was just a rumor. I just watched an interview where he explained the situation and what it came down to was the harsh vocal style was not something he could continue to evolve and so he opted for clean vocals, something that he could continue to progress with musically. This is great for several reasons, first and foremost being that there is nothing wrong with that wonderful voice, and of course because it means in the future his muse may lead him down the harsh vocal path once again. I’ll be listening either way.
A line from “The Devil’s Orchard” proclaims “God is dead”. That may be, but Opeth, some serious rock gods, are not.