When Steven Wilson produced and mixed “Blackwater Park” a friendship was formed between himself and Mikael Akerfeldt. Few would have thought that this would have essentially laid the groundwork for Opeth’s entire sound to change so dramatically.
One of the topics they bonded about was their mutual love of progressive rock. Over the past few years Opeth’s direction has increasingly moved towards this dynamic and 2011’s “Heritage” was completely unexpected for most fans and casual observers of the band. Personally, “Heritage” was a triumph of songwriting and performing, I love every second of it. When a band changes its sound in such a strong way two things need to happen. First is that they need to have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve and secondly, they need to be able to play that style with a genuine love and passion. This to me is what happened with “Heritage”. People who would have discarded Opeth albums because they were too heavy, were able to enjoy a new band for the first time and in some cases were able to explore their back catalogue.
New album ‘Pale Communion’ is quite bizarre to my ears and the reason may seem even more so. It is a magnificent collection of Deep Purple-esque funk rock and virtuosity all with an Opeth tonality. The songs are well realised and superbly recorded and mixed (thanks to Steven Wilson again ), but as good as it is, it sounds like the middle of an even better album. There is no definite stand out track. Almost as if it was to splice into Heritage to create a huge double album. ‘Cusp of Eternity’ was probably wisely released as the lead track from the album as it sounds most like Ghost Reveries/Watershed of all the tracks on offer, with a feel similar to ‘The Lotus Eater’.
Opening track ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ shows a massive influence from Deep Purple with a heavy organ intro, Ian Paice style drumming and an extended jam which settles into a solid song. “Moon Above Sun Below” continues to disperse the 70’s prog trappings and begins to sound even more like Opeth’s more melodic inclinations. “Elysian Woes” is suitably bleak to its title and leads into an instrumental track ‘Goblin’ which almost has a peculiar 80’s cop show sound to it. “River” is to me is the most un-Opeth track on the album but is a great exploration of what they can do. “Voice of Treason” and “Faith in Others” wrap up the album in such a way that it feels like “Pale Communion” has stopped a track or two early.
As I said initially, it is a great album to sit and listen to but it feels like its the middle part of a different album. I like all the songs on it a lot, but there is something missing from it I can’t put my finger on…..
⅘ Great Album but something is missing….
Stream the full album by clicking on the graphic below.
Words – Ross McDermott