Album review: OPETH – Pale Communion

OPETH - Pale Communion

Roadrunner Records [Release Date - 25.08.14]

Mikael Akerfeldt – the debate rages…

Rather like Steven Wilson and Mike Portnoy, there are sections of the music press which are so sycophantic and so over the top in hyping up the Opeth frontman that it is difficult to be objective in evaluating his work – is he really a genius or do I just not see it?

There is no doubting that his body of work polarises opinion, but be in no doubt – when it comes to ‘Pale Communion’, Opeth’s eleventh studio album, the word genius is entirely apposite.

Since Akerfeldt began to turn his back on the thunderous metal rifferama and death growls of his early career with the albums ‘Watershed’ and particularly 2011’s ‘Heritage’ the path he has taken (much to the chagrin of Opeth’s core fan base) is that of progressive metal folk rock – a turn that has produced, in ‘Pale Communion’, a candidate for album of the year.

This seismic shift was more than hinted at on ‘Heritage’ with a number of outstanding tracks, not least the fabulous ‘I Feel The Dark’, but the envelope has been well and truly pushed to the max here producing an album so rooted in progressive rock’s traditions yet having a contemporary freshness about it that simply dazzles.

And it’s not just Akerfeldt either, this is truly a band effort with the musicianship, especially the keyboard work of Joakim Svalberg and fretmeistery of Fredrik Akesson, taking things to an ethereal plane.

Eight tracks to savour and it’s absolutely futile to try and pick highlights.

Every single track is a gem and it doesn’t matter if you’re not a fan of progressive rock or metal or folk – the interweaving of genres within every track ensures that all devotees of what is essentially just great rock music will find the whole album a cornucopia of treasures.

There’s plenty of raw meat for the metal fans to get their teeth into but this is juxtaposed with many beautiful (not a word usually associated with Opeth) acoustic moments, with both piano and guitar. 

All this is topped off by Akerfeldt’s excellent vocals – apparently he’s been working hard at this aspect of his music, and it shows.

In summary ‘Pale Communion’ is simply a superb album. It sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before and yet has that cosy glow of familiarity – all of which demands both your undivided attention and a pressing of the repeat button to confirm that yes, it really was that good.

Album of the year? I think so.  *****

Review by Alan Jones

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