Album review: Opeth continue to push musical boundaries on “In Cauda Venenum”
What makes a band progressive is their ability to change things up, to add to the sound that helped them attain the adoration of millions rather than stagnate. Musicians do not owe their fans anything but quality. They serve themselves through their own art and we have the choice to either follow their journey, or find something else.
Swedish progressive metal titans Opeth took a huge leap of faith with 2011’s “Heritage,” abandoning their famous death metal riffs and growls for a sound heavily inspired by 1970s progressive rock legends such as King Crimson and Deep Purple. As a result, many metalheads dove headfirst off the wagon while those with more receptive musical taste buds stuck around to watch them master an entirely different genre.
“In Cauda Venenum” is Opeth’s most present release in that it has something the previous few albums since the transition lacked. A sinister vibe that grabs listeners by their wrists and maintains its grip for most of the album’s runtime. What made fans obsessed with albums like “Blackwater Park” and “Ghost Reveries” was more than just heaviness: It was that twisted medieval sound they had to them. Whereas the brightened ‘70s atmosphere of “Heritage,” “Pale Communion” and “Sorceress” did not leave fans quite as addicted, “In Cauda Venenum” does a better job combining both sides of the band’s discography while treading new water musically and lyrically.
After “Garden of Earthly Delights” eases listeners into the experience, “In Cauda Venenum” lifts off with “Dignity” and “Heart in Hand,” two of the best songs Opeth have written this decade. Their energy is felt as soon as the play button is hit, whether it is through the uplifting vocal accompaniments, Martin Axenrot’s precise drumming, or Fredrick Akesson’s scorching guitar solos. Joakim Svalberg’s role as the group’s keyboardist becomes more prominent with every release, specifically showcased on tracks such as “Charlatan,” and “The Garroter,” two of the band’s most experimental tracks yet.
Guitarist and frontman Mikael Akerfeldt took a new approach to the lyrics by first writing them in Swedish. To paraphrase one of his promotional interviews, he cannot hide behind metaphors in his native language; thus, he is writing specifically about events taking place around him for the first time. “Next of Kin,” for example, references how he feels about social media isolating his loved ones. “Finding friends in algorithms, forgot the sound of my daughter’s voice. / Please remind me of my emptiness, the hissing of machines lost rhythm,” he sings. Even more saddening is “Continuum,” with the lines, “Life is so fragile, I know. And even if I heard a yearning voice in your heart, old routines always kept us apart,” reveal the song to be about Akerfeldt’s failed relationship with his ex-wife.
Akerfeldt’s singing continues to improve with every album. His belting in songs like “Dignity” and “Heart in Hand” show he is a lot more confident than he was a decade ago. The soft side of his voice is much more refined and melodic, evident on tracks such as “Lovelorn Crime,” “Universal Truth,” and “The Garroter.” The latter being his most unique performance to date as he sounds like an old nightclub singer.
As usual, Opeth has crafted a solid experience for listeners. Fans of progressive music get a new dose of complex arrangements while fans of jazz and folk may use this as their gateway to heavy music.