Music I Love: “Heritage”, Opeth (2011)

Track Listing:

  1. Heritage
  2. The Devil’s Orchard
  3. I Feel the Dark
  4. Slither
  5. Nepenthe
  6. Häxprocess
  7. Famine
  8. The Lines in my Hand
  9. Folklore
  10. Marrow of the Earth

Opeth have been one of my favorite … no, they are my favorite band in the world. I maintain to this day that Blackwater Park is one of the best albums in existence, of any genre, and I’ve written about it before.

This is not about Blackwater Park. That album was their fifth, and Heritage is now their tenth. (Pale Communion, their eleventh album, is their latest release.) And a lot has changed in the meantime.

Blackwater Park was, unmistakably, a death metal album. As much progressive and acoustic material as they could fit in there, Mikael Äkerfeldt’s distinctive growls set the tone from the outset. And while the following record, Deliverance, was perhaps their most crushingly heavy album to date, its counterpart, Damnation, showed the world the sensitivity Opeth was truly capable of—an album of purely acoustic and lightly electric melodies, with nary a growl in sight.

For some years following Damnation, it was a mystery as to what Opeth would release next—acoustic or death metal? and Ghost Reveries delivered on both fronts. Its successor, Watershed, truly lived up to its name; despite a beautifully acoustic introduction, the growls come fast and furious, only to be superseded by melody and clean singing.

And so what was to follow? In 2011, Opeth released their tenth album: Heritage. And what a landmark album it was. The title was intended to represent Opeth’s influences—1970s prog. And so it is. There are no death growls on this album, only a beautiful piano and acoustic bass introduction, leading into the hard rock of The Devil’s Orchard. Keyboards feature plentifully on Heritage, the result of hiring a full-time keyboard player. And while Martin Axenrot’s drums were a little—just a little—too “in your face” on Watershed, he has truly stepped up on Heritage to fill the legendary Martin Lopez’s shoes (see Deliverance). His drumming is subtle and beautiful—a perfect counterpart to Äkerfeldt’s smokey vocals and smooth guitar.

Understand—Heritage is not a death metal album. If you are averse to heavier music, this album might still appeal to you. The deft blend of 70s prog and modern production has made an album that I believe will stand the test of time—and become an utter classic in the discography of one of the world’s most talented bands.

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