OPETH
"Heritage"

(Roadrunner)

01. Heritage
02. The Devil's Orchard
03. I Feel The Dark
04. Slither
05. Nepenthe
06. Haxprocess
07. Famine
08. The Lines In My Hand
09. Folklore
10. Marrow Of The Earth

RATING: 8/10

If it weren't for the fact that Mikael Åkerfeldt and OPETH have based their entire careers on doing whatever felt right, regardless of mass acceptance potential, then it might seem fitting to say that "Heritage" is a musical representation of a band that has earned the right to create whatever kind of music it wants. That's why it's even stranger to state the while "Heritage" is the progressive rock album Åkerfeldt warned us OPETH would be making, it doesn't seem quite as dismissive, unconsciously or otherwise, of convention as its more death-imbued predecessors, "Damnation" notwithstanding. "Seem" is the operative word here. Predictably structured it is not, but it will be easier on the ears of the death-dismissive and features much in the way of melodic beauty even as the group continues down roads less traveled or just makes their own damn roads.

It is not like "Watershed", "Ghost Reveries", and earlier albums didn't incorporate a range of progressive rock and jazz elements. It's just that all those obscure '70s prog rock albums — and yes, PORCUPINE TREE (Steven Wilson actually mixed the album) — about which Åkerfeldt has raved finally had their figurative voices heard through an OPETH translator. The result is an album that will go down as anything but a blemish on a brilliant career, even if it doesn't reach the kind of album-of-the-year levels that previous long players have reached with shocking consistency.

Perhaps the most important item to note is that listening to "Heritage" on ear buds or headphones (anyone?) is a necessity. The improvisational feel of arrangements that highlight what many would consider solo showcases, yet still move collectively forward in classic jazz fashion, cannot be experienced with full effect outside of complete immersion. Granted, two-minute opening piano piece "Heritage" is sort of an exception, as is mellow instrumental closer "Marrow of the Earth". But a track like "The Devil's Orchard", which also happens to feature the album's most memorable chorus (for lack of a better term anyway) of "God is Dead", explodes into so many impacting parts, including an active main riff (with a tone more reminiscent of early KYUSS), jazz sweeps, and a moment of unique funkiness in Åkerfeldt's vocalizing over Martin Axenrot's drumming.

Axenrot, by the way, demonstrates his keen jazzman abilities throughout the album and his percussive "touch" is nearly unexplainable if you've not heard it. By the same token, Per Wiberg (since departed) gets to shine in a way that that we've not heard from the keyboard position on an OPETH album. We can't forget Åkerfeldt's singing either; he is genuinely emotive throughout, even as he struggles just a bit from time to time during the album's lightest moments.

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But back on point, "Heritage" is the kind of album that requires you to settle in, clear our mind of the day's detritus, and ride for the duration in order to properly absorb the full prog-rock experience. It is true that there are moments that mildly satisfy instead of captivate, but the trip is still well worth the time invested. Maybe it is not patience that is a necessity during some sections as much as an appreciation of the manner in which the album's less striking junctures make those like the all-out jazz jam that explodes out of the serenity on "Nepenthe" so much more penetrating. Along those same lines, some songs push experimental boundaries (the multi-faceted "Famine") more than others ("I Feel the Dark"), but all are necessary to the completion of OPETH's progressive rock mission.

As for whether OPETH has successfully made the transition to a progressive rock band on par with its more metallic, world-dominant side, the answer is somewhere along the lines of "not quite." But you know the deal about groups like OPETH. There are no real disappointments; only varying degrees of greatness. By OPETH standards "Heritage" is an addition to the catalogue about which the group can be proud and that fans should enjoy. By anyone else's standards, "Heritage" is quite smashing as a progressive rock album.

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