Roundtable Review: Pale Communion by Opeth
Posted by RiffRaff
Album: Pale Communion
Label: Roadrunner Records
Release Date: August 26th, 2014
Songs: 8 +2 Bonus Tracks with digipack
Length: 55:48 (w/o bonus tracks)
Genre: Prog Rock
Studio Albums: This is their 11th LP
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
WarpRider – As the band continues with a prog spell of albums, Heritage and now Pale Communion, Opeth is certainly doing what they want to do. As much as I want another Ghost Reveries, I miss the blackened, progressive death metal as much as the next fan (growls included). I can’t say their 70s prog-style albums are bad. They aren’t bad, they are very good for what they are, but because they are Opeth, fans expect a certain kind of album. Setting that aside along with my personal preferences in Opeth music, Pale Communion is a step ahead of Heritage and is a very enjoyable listen. Their music sounds like Opeth, the vocals are strong, and there is a certain darker edge to Pale Communion over Heritage. This is getting a lot of spins in my neck of the woods. 4.5
RiffRaff – Fortunately we decided to do the hotly anticipated Opeth release Roundtable style so I wouldn’t be able to jump directly onto the keyboard and squirt my Opeth fanboy love all over Pale Communion. I got plenty of time to listen to the record multiple times (according to my music play I’m up to 34 spins….) and absorb every nuance from the album. And after an absurd amount of listens I feel that I can honestly say that Pale Communion is easily one of my favorite Opeth records and ranks up there with the shattering Ghost Reveries, Blackwater Park, and Still Life. Yes, Opeth are no longer a metal band by any means, but they are still Opeth. Light and dark contrasts, flowing proggy songs, outstanding musicianship, etc. All the nuances that make Opeth great are present, just sans death growls and blast beats. What struck me so hard about this record is the amount of emotion that is present in Mikael’s even more improved singing voice. Whether it be the chill classic rock feel of it on ‘River’ or the melancholic soulfulness on ‘Elysian Woes’ or the powerful bluesyness in ‘Voice of Treason’ his voice never ceases to give me goosebumps on any given track on the record. And as is tradition, his approach on each track is varied.
While Opeth has always been Mikael’s baby and he is know for running a very tight ship, I feel that his surrounding musicians were given some quarter on this album as their playing feels much more open, soulful, and even improvised at times. Akesson’s guitars rip and especially take off when he plays solos unlike anything I’ve heard on an Opeth record before. Martin Mendez, as usual keeps the low end rolling and powerful while Axenrot delivers not only one of the best drumming performances of any Opeth record, but one of the best performances I’ve heard in years. And newcomer keyboardist Joakim Svalberg comes in and makes one hell of a statement and pretty much makes the record as he channels his inner Jon Lord and simply rips to all hell tying the record together. This has to be the most musically expressive Opeth record available and the leeway Mikael gave his band members really make them that much better. It’s also worth noting that long time collaborator and producer Steven Wilson is not noted with producer credits (Mikael is) but is credited as a member of the band as a backup vocalist.
After a pair of really damn good but not the OMFGOPETHISFUCKINGAMAZING releases that I expect from the band, Pale Communion is a return to form for the band. Simply put, this is an ever-engaging record riddled with modernized 70s prog rock and well above average songwriting and performances. I simply can not recommend this album enough. It exceeded all my expectations and blows me away each time I listen to it. In my ears, this is absolute perfection. 5
Irmelinis – Opeth has been one of my favourite bands for a long time and despite not liking the change on their latest albums, I still follow them with great interest and will give anything they release a fair chance. Unfortunately this ultra-proggy, organ-filled, meandering style makes my ears cry. It’s not that they’ve gone “soft”, or removed the growling that bothers me. The powerful emotions, riffs and their distinctive dark/light contrasting, complex sound that I loved is nowhere to be found and instead I get wanky, simple and colourless songs. With beautiful singing, many typical Opeth-moments performed by highly skilled musicians, sure. But this is not for me. Except for the track “Elysian Woes” which could have come straight off of Damnation, I’d like more of that. 2.0
ChristopherMammal – Opeth was my favourite metal band. It isn’t my favourite progressive rock band. “Pale Communion” is OK but not great. I almost hate to say it, but every previous Opeth album was better.
Looking at the lists for the 21-year metal hit parade I’m doing on Metal State, Opeth has had quite a few Number Ones and other highly ranked songs according to my personal taste. They were consistently on top of their game for 13 years.
The band has transitioned through three musical phases in the space of three albums – for Michael Akerveldt, make that four. “Watershed” in 2008 was Opeth’s last progressive metal release. I love it. “Heritage” happened in 2011 after Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree, who had started producing for Opeth in 2001, told Akerveldt, “No more growling.” The music softened accordingly. That album was a blend of prog metal and heavy prog rock. It was very good. The 2012 Wilson-Akerveldt collaboration, “Storm Corrosion”, was a departure for both into the realms of avant-garde prog rock. I love it too. Now we have “Pale Communion”, a mashup of crossover and atmospheric prog rock. Apart from one or two tracks, I find the music ever so slightly ponderous and pedestrian.
“Pale Communion” can’t be measured against any metal albums released this year because it definitely isn’t metal, although it has heavy prog elements. At the end of the year I’ll be comparing it with some of the superb prog rock albums that have come out this year from bands such as IQ, RPWL, Cosmograf, Introitis, Majestic and Ian Anderson; soon-to-be-released albums by Pendragon, The Pineapple Thief and such bands; and fusion prog releases by the likes of Mats/Morgan, Carmel Apple Pop and Atomic Ape. The new Opeth may make it into my top 20 of 2014. 3.5
AFTERWORD from Mammal, months later: I tender my most sincere apologies to Opeth for my initial reaction to “Pale Communion”. I must have been wearing the wrong pair of ears that week. On subsquent listenings this album just gets better and better. It’s superb, actually. I must revise my rating to 4.5.
A Metal State of Mind Score – 3.75 out of 5 revised to 4.0