Pale Communion

Written by: AP on 14/12/2014 21:01:19

There is a picture, recently posted by Opeth, which depicts frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt asleep backstage in the hours leading up to a concert. Hand under his chin, even in slumber the man appears to be stitching together pieces of a song, which seems oddly testimonial to the complex thinking that underlies the Swedish progressive metal titans' creative process. Across eleven album thus far, Opeth have proven themselves a vital element in the fabric of metal; always changing, evolving - yet never abandoning the essence of what makes their music so astounding: the quintet's undying love of classic prog. The group's previous outing "Heritage" may have divided the waters with its unprecedented distancing from their death metal origins, but as unresolved as Opeth's ambition to transcend the boundaries of extreme metal on it were, the album was premonitory of the future direction of the band's music, not to mention a necessary step to realise the ideas that form the basis of this latest opus "Pale Communion".

It is difficult - no, impossible to resist the sensation that here, as magnificent cascades of Hammond organ gently give way to a delicate piano melody and brief, blues ridden solo at the beginning of "Eternal Rains Will Come", Opeth have struck the proverbial gold vein and awakened the revered spirit of Pink Floyd in modern colours. The song continues in elusive, yet constantly intriguing fashion, Åkerfeldt's soulful singing sounding better than ever and his ensemble of fellow musicians lead guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, bassist Martín Méndez, drummer Martin Axenrot & keyboard/Hammond organ mastermind Joakim Svalberg taking the band's mysterious, kaleidoscopic audioverse into profoundly evocative territory. Seldom does one witness a soundscape so uncannily balanced as that which unfolds on the following standout "Cusp of Eternity", each instrument cutting through the mix with surgical precision as Opeth lay down the song's perilously rumbling, unforgettable main riff. Of growling there is none, but the naysayers might just be silenced all the same upon experiencing the sonic weight of this track which, while much closer to progressive rock than metal, is heavier than Opeth have sounded in years.

No less massive are the dimensions of "Moon Above, Sun Below" - the longest track on offer here, clocking in at nearly 11 minutes - its juxtaposition between acoustic guitar and Åkerfeldt's falsetto with a sinuous motley of riffs, leads and solo parts riding at the crest of an imposing rhythm section leaving an everlasting impression, particularly so in the crescendo as Åkerfeldt muses "There is no help in the wake of our needs. There is no help to dispel the pain. There is no help, yet some cling to a phantom. There is no help, only circles on the water". So masterfully written are the songs that comprise "Pale Communion" that for a moment, all is forgotten while the listener's intellectual capacity focuses on dissecting the immense wealth of texture and detail on display. Whether it be the subtle, yet tantalising beauty of "Elysian Woes", the instrumental ode to the 'Floyd that is "Goblin" (a song driven largely by Svalberg's dexterity with the Hammond organ), or the dramatic prog odyssey on which Opeth embark with "Voice of Treason", the sheer measure of thought underlying the music seems beyond comprehension, each section and piece sounding no less crucial than the other in constructing the bigger picture. Pay attention, for instance, to the audacious infusions of horns, strings and Spanish guitar in the latter to exquisite results.

Indeed, Opeth haven't sounded this vital and invigorated since 2005's "Ghost Reveries". As tempting it is for a music journalist to level critique at even the finest showpieces for a genre, there is very little here to tempt such foolish pretense. "Pale Communion" is a masterpiece of progressive music; meticulously sculpted, prodigiously executed, it cements itself as another milestone in the illustrious career of this influential band and a harbringer of their future pursuits. Death metal, though not forgotten as anyone with experience watching Opeth live can attest to, is a thing of the past, the band's celebration of progressive music from a wider perspective reflective as much of their growth as musicians as of their maturing as individuals. Metal album of the year? Quite possibly.


Download: Eternal Rains Will Come; Cusp of Eternity; Moon Above, Sun Below; Voice of Treason
For the fans of: Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson
Listen: Facebook

Release date 26.08.2014
Roadrunner Records

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