Every now and then a band will almost completely change their style and quite often it’ll go down like a lead balloon. When Opeth cemented the change from their previous growling death metal style to this progressive, classic rock style on their previous album, Heritage, it got a mixed reception to say the least. But that hasn’t deterred them at all and in Pale Communion, their eleventh full length studio album, they have created such a well constructed piece of art that it is hard to begrudge them following whatever style they see fit.
The eight track album starts with Eternal Rains Will Come and, once it kicks in, you get the perfect opener. Haunting vocals are delicately placed over flowing guitars which are accompanied by an intricate and ever changing drum beat. It sets the tone of the album perfectly and gives you a good idea of what is to come. The chorus in second track Cusp Of Eternity contains vocals that will get stuck in your head long after you’re finished listening to the album. These two songs work together to build an atmosphere rarely seen in albums these days. This atmosphere is heightened by what is the highlight of the album, Moon Above, Sun Below. Despite clocking up eleven minutes, it rarely feels over indulgent or wasteful. Indeed, it is so well written that you start to grasp how well these musicians know, and subsequently play to, each other’s strengths. You can't write music like this without having total faith in those around you. The whole band work together tirelessly to create what is one of the most varied and interesting eleven minute songs you'll ever hear.
The remaining tracks head back to more ‘normal’ track lengths, starting with Elysium Woes and its five minutes of beautifully picked guitars and gentle vocals. Another example of the skill on show, it really leaves you wanting more after its abrupt ending. After the slightly disappointing instrumental song Goblin you get more too, although not at quite the same level as before. Whilst River is an unsuspecting gem that grows and grows with each listen, Voice Of Reason and Faith In Others provide a softer, more gentle ending to the album that on the first couple of listens does not quite live up to the opening few tracks. This is not to say that they aren’t good songs still. They’re both well written, but they don’t quite grab the listener the same way the opening few tracks do.
Overall this album is held together by the extreme skill that the band can call upon. Whether it’s the impressive vocal range of Mikael Åkerfeldt or the sheer genius of guitarist Frederick Åkesson you get the feeling that Opeth have decided that, after ten previous albums, they have got to a place in their career where they can do pretty much what they want. Luckily for us this prog style they seem to be sticking with works and is most certainly still Opeth at its core.
Pale Communion is out now on Roadrunner Records.