When a band has previous releases the calibre of ones such as Reign In Blood, Demanufacture or City, it can be difficult for fans to view any new material they release as being “as good as” or, in some cases, “better” than those. A prime example of this can be seen in the band which this article discusses. For some “fans”, Ghost Reveries was the last “good” album they released with Watershed being branded “ok” and everything after that not even considered. Whilst admittedly, the band did almost do a complete 180 on their sound, the signs were always there and the pursuit of “ultimate heaviness” had to end somewhere. Overtime, however, this heaviness has crept back in ever so slightly. Yet not in ways people might think. Let me explain, whilst going through the, rather fantastic, In Caude Venenum. I’ll be referring to the Swedish version as that’s the one which I, personally, feel represents the album better.
In comparison to the previous album, right off the bat In Caude Venenum has much better mixing. Everything is much clearer and actually sounds mixed as opposed to just thrown together in a blender. Whilst Sorceress was a good album, the mix on it ended up tainting my view of it somewhat. With this album however, that is not the case and it has a mix which, in some ways, complements the music and moves with it.
The first track, “Livets Trädgård”, continues the tradition introduced in Opeth albums of late by being instrumental. Featuring arpeggiated synths and choirs, it is certainly a different style of opening track but fits rather nicely. “Svekets Prins” is where the vocals officially come in (clean of course) but not before a spectacular guitar solo from Fredrik Åkesson elevates things to a whole other level. So much goes on in this track that you could easily write a SeanM level essay review on just this one track. For the sake of being concise, there’s everyones favourite acoustic guitars, distorted guitars and excellent drumming from Axe. It’s a great track and one that sets the tone for the album nicely.
Following track, and first single, “Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör” continues the themes explored in the previous song. If anything though, the song feels much more cohesive as a unit and the melodies/counter-melodies played by Joakim Svalberg really make the track sing perfectly. Coupled with another fantastic guitar solo from Fredrik, this again is a great track. “De närmast sörjande” follows and practically everything on this rather complex track work together to create a stimulating and entertaining soundtrack. The melodies and counter-melodies courtesy of keyboardist Joakim mesh in perfectly with the ever perfect vocals from Mikael Åkerfeldt and a superb solo from Fredrik cement it as one of the best tracks on the album.
“Minnets Yta” and “Charlatan” mark the mid-point of the album with the former opening with a rather lovely piano melody that flows throughout the track making it what could be considered the ‘ballad’ of the album. The latter track brings back a bit of speed with the syncopated patterns from drummer “Axe” being of particular note. The track also has an overall “heavy” vibe with down-tuned guitars locking into the aforementioned drum patterns to create a sinister and overall dark feeling. This dark feeling continues right to the end with the short Swedish soundbites and a choral choir providing the haunting end.
Continuing the album, “Ingen sanning är allas” features some higher pitched from Mikael which, honestly, is a touch cringey at points. The English version is a tad better but honestly it is still a little “ooh. yeah.” Thankfully, the rest of the track more than makes up for this with some fantastic bass melodies from Martín Méndez and a acoustic guitar break in the middle, not too dissimilar in style to the one from “Blackwater Park”. “Banemannen” opens with the aforementioned acoustic guitars taking a slightly ‘flamenco’ style before a big-band style melody comes in after a rather lovely piano interlude. Now, some people might be a little concerned that the ‘big-band’ won’t work with the Opeth sound, but I am happy to report that it more than does. In fact, the track is one of the best on the album as it is just so unique and unlike anything on the album.
Rounding the album out, the final two tracks “Kontinuerlig drift” and “Allting tar slut” keep many of the themes introduced in the previous tracks but put their own slant on them to keep things fresh and unique. The former of the tracks begins rather softly before a guitar solo from Frederik brings in some more the instruments to create a much more dense soundscape. The latter of the two keeps a much thinner soundscape with much more emphasis on stripped back sections consisting of either just the drums and keyboards or acoustic guitars and drums. Ending with a slow fade out of the melody introduced towards the end, the song provides a suitable end to the previous 67 minutes.
As mentioned at the start of this review, there is still “heavy” in Opeth’s music. Yes, the harsh vocals and death metal melodies that made up a good portion of the band’s earlier work are not there and some may argue that “it’ll never sound the same.” That is true, the Opeth of old and the Opeth of new will not sound the same. However, in reference to the heavy, it is still there. The dissonant melodies which can make things sound heavy and sections where everything is in unison on those are still present. It is those sections which I refer to when I say that something is “heavy” on this album. Everyone’s opinion of heavy however, does vary and for some it might not be what they consider heavy.
On a strictly musical note however and in comparison to the previous album, Opeth have truly outdone themselves. The album is one which is both musically stimulating and one which continues to deliver impact even after many listens. To compare this album to Opeth’s older albums I would say is slightly unfair as the newer material is incredibly different from the older material. However, this album, in my opinion, is the best one they have released since Watershed and arguably the best of the new progressive era Opeth.
In Caude Venenum is available now.