It’s been a long time coming for the follow-up to 2008’s Watershed. Heritage is quite the change of pace from anything that the band has ever done. Gone for now are all traces of growling which would make you think it’s going to be just like Damnation, but that couldn’t be further from correct. With Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree at the helm and Mikael Akerfeldt saying that he’s been listening to lots of Alice Cooper lately, weird things were to be expected. The result sounds like a band locked in an opium den for two years while on a steady diet of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Jethro Tull. Is it going to be hard for metal fans to swallow? Most definitely. Will Opeth fans love it? By the second listen, most definitely. I’ve listened to this album for an entire three day holiday weekend (literally) to give it an accurate assessment. There are some people who think that Mike Patton or Devin Townsend can do no wrong, apparently I’m one of those people on the bandwagon that Mikael Akerfeldt can also do no wrong – aside from not bringing Bloodbath to the states for a tour that is. Due to that fact, I had to make sure that my judgment wasn’t clouded by the fact that holy fuck there’s finally a new Opeth album; I’ll take whatever they throw at me and love it.
The album is sandwiched with the instrumentals ‘Heritage’ and ‘Marrow Of The Earth’ which are both beautiful in their own right but neither add or subtract to the album. There are still some traces of the softer stuff on Watershed to be found but otherwise it’s a total reinvention vocally. It’s obvious upon first listen that the basic format for how an Opeth song is constructed hasn’t changed, but the overall sound has evolved into more of a clean progressive sound which was why I was on pins and needles for so long after hearing the news. My worst nightmare would be that my favorite progressive death metal band had gone the way of a Dream Theater tribute band. The instrumentals here could just as easily be played behind growls, which is little consultation for the death metal elitists who will have nothing to do with this. There is a bit more use of the keyboards here compared to most of their stuff which is ironic since keyboardist Per Wiberg was booted from the band shortly after completion of the album. Usually, I break down an album song by song and compare them to other bands or prior work by the band, but this album isn’t really worth it. It’s an album that you need to listen to about seven times from start to finish to appreciate, because I can write about it until I’m blue in the face and it won’t do the songs justice. It’s kind of like trying to write a review of Dark Side Of The Moon and getting somebody new to music to understand the importance of it. The uptempo sound of ‘Slither’ is truly something to behold however, and could be snuck into classic rock radio rotation without people even noticing. The addition of a percussion and flute in ‘Famine’ are also quite a treat that makes me want to uncover my alter ego of a 70’s stoner that thinks Aqualung was the greatest trippy album ever made.
There is a great balance to this album, and depending on your mood at the time a different song will stand out each time. When listened to as a whole repeatedly, all of the songs (minus the intro and outro) stand out on their own equally without a highlight or lowlight. Granted the Opeth that we’ve come to expect is an entire album being solid from top to bottom (Blackwater Park, Damnation, Deliverance, Morningrise) and not the ups and downs (Ghost Reveries, Watershed) that sometimes can plague an album. Opeth always puts out top notch music, and this is definitely no exception. The only difference here is whether this is your style of music or not. I am definitely on board with this departure because of the 70’s nostalgia feel much like I was for the unrivaled beauty found on Damnation. However I don’t want this to be a permanent change either. By late 2012, I’ll be craving the fuck out of a growl of Satan/voice of an angel Opeth album again. Until then, I’ll adore this album and commend a band this far into their storied career for taking such a wild chance and nailing it. 9/10