Pale Communion - Opeth
In the world of modern progressive rock there is none more eponymous than Swedish metallers Opeth. After two decades and countless roster changes, the lead singer and founder, Mikael Akerfeldt, has taken it upon himself to steer the band in a new direction, and although it isn't groundbreaking or revolutionary, it seems to work for him just fine.
With their latest offering, 'Pale Communion,' Opeth delivers a more melodic, softer side of their sound, which may be disheartening to some as their landmark album, the darker, heavier 'Blackwater Park,' seem to set the bar for the amazing talent displayed by the Swedes and utilized Akerfeldt's ability to sing and scream with extremely satisfying results. On the new album the absence of growls and grunts and heavy, chunky riffs is glaring as Akerfeldt chooses to stick with melodic orchestral work and a litany of guitar solos to create a lovely atmosphere that is wholly Opeth but lacking in originality. The opening track, 'Eternal Rains Will Come,' jumps right in with competent guitar work and then switches seamlessly to a quiet piano and then back again, filling a full three minutes of music before Akerfeldt's voice is heard. The rhythmic 'Cusp of Eternity' has an ethereal feel to it, and fades into the longest track on the album, 'Moon Above, Sun Below.' At just over ten minutes, this track represents everything that Opeth stand for, bursting with solos and tempered drum work that fans of the band have come to love and respect over the years. 'Elysian Woes' is a pretty but tame song by the band's standards, retaining the solos and not much else. The instrumental 'Goblin' has a cool chopped up opening, utilizing keyboards to create a funkier sound that stands out against the classic sound of the band. 'River' has a very spiritual feel about it, the main instruments being an acoustic guitar and Akerfeldt's voice, then gives way to ominous track 'Voice of Treason,' a song that has a middle eastern essence about it, using strings and pianos to round out the track. The last song, 'Faith in Others' is perhaps the best one, pulling together all of the musical resources at Akerfeldts' disposal to create a lovely song that gives the listener the feeling of hope and despair at the same time. There is a bonus track on the album, a live cover of Black Sabbath's 'Solitude' that is cool and well executed by the band, although it will forever be shadowed by their brilliant cover of Deep Purple's 'Soldier of Fortune' that appears on 'Ghost Reveries.'
Overall, I would say that while I enjoyed the album, it probably won't make its way into my regular rotation as Opeth have proved with previous albums that they can far exceed the expectations placed on them. Akerfeldt has grown and evolved as all musicians do, and his experimentation with new directions is still in the works; as he shapes and molds his band over time we may see less of the original Opeth, but being a musician is all about pushing yourself into new and sometimes scary territory, and whether or not the experience is negative is totally up to the listener. I would recommend the album to Opeth and prog rock fans alike, keeping in mind that although this isn't their most spectacular body of work it is certainly one worth listening to.