Album Review: Opeth – In Cauda Venenum 8.5

  • Opeth
  • In Cauda Venenum
  • Progressive Metal
  • September 27, 2019
  • Sweden
  • 8.5/10

Spotify / Official / Metallum

Between Old Pride and Desperate Prayers

Very few names in the history of prog metal can shine as dazzlingly as Opeth does, and even fewer bands have had such a repertoire of stunning albums as those of Opeth throughout their career of 30 years. They have established themselves as an undisputable act of Swedish metal and have also been able to garner a huge fan base in addition to instilling respect among fellow musicians and critics alike. Their brand of progressive death metal in their early years and their own take on progressive metal in their midcareer were the main basis for this awe-inspiring stature the band enjoys these days. However, starting maybe with Heritage (2011), the band inclined ever more toward progressive rock, bringing their metal roots with themselves to this rather ‘new’ sphere – of course ‘new’ for the band. Taking this different approach, they proved to prioritize progression and holding this issue above all else. They are a true “progressive” band.

Artwork by Travis Smith who we all know for his work with Amorphis, Death, Devin Townsend, Iced Earth, Katatonia and more.

Their most recent album, In Cauda Venenum, which falls 13th on their discography, is a step further from their trodden path and toward new territories. It picks up where Sorceress (2016) left off and takes the torch miles further. In order to fully appreciate this album, one should cast aside their Blackwater Park sort of expectation and take this album as it is. That means that Opeth is veering ever further from their bone-crushing, soul-ripping and head-exploding metal riff-work, drumming and singing and more in the direction of emotional, affective and accessible musicianship. An illustration of this is Mikael Åkerfeldt’s singing which is worlds apart from style back in 1990s and 2000s. This album is filled, almost to the brim, with his clean vocals – singing or otherwise humming or chanting – which may not be something to complain about for many, and I wouldn’t have complained either were it not Mikael freaking Åkerfeldt with his unearthly vocal chords which can deliver infernal growls.

This tenderness of attitude is reflected in the music as well, specifically in instrumentation. Frequent use of acoustic guitar, which appears on almost every song, alongside incorporation of other instruments such as flute (“Continuum”), Xylophone (“Dignity”) and piano (e.g. “Lovelorn Crime”) point at the bands adherence to the ideal of progression, but at the same time are a testimony to their route away from metal. “Take The Garroter” as an example: a minimal piano and guitar intro which reminds the listener of contemporary neoclassical ambient artists, a flute passage, orchestral undertones, cinematic samples, an eastern ambience and above all Mikael’s clean and prevalent singing. Here they are as far away from metal as the band may have ever been. Don’t get me wrong though. Opeth-size skill is omnipresent; all through the album, music is almost impeccably competent and musicianship is of top-notch quality. In particular, the few guitar solos and Martin Axenrot’s diverse drumming style are praiseworthy. It is just that this is not what one might want to hear from Damnation and Deliverance Opeth.

One constant on this album, nevertheless, is the lyricism. Still motifs of despair, contemplation of life, coldness and the past recur and strike the listener with morose thoughts and leave them in a low spirit. Åkerfeldt’s literary aptitude is beyond any shadow of doubt. Here, too, words flow to the rhythm of music and he vocalizes them to actualize their hidden potential, making each a musical note and a bearer of meaning.

Overall, tracks like “Heart in Hand”, “Next of Kin” and parts of “Dignity” and “Charlatan” allow us to rest assured that they are what they have always been, they give us a wistful taste of those old days’ chthonic glamor. But the fact is they have opted for experimenting with their music, for instance adding Gregorian chants or regularly using Swedish speech samples, and it is a choice one should respect. And respect I do. But I wouldn’t be around much for Opeth; I still will check out their albums whenever one is out and will gladly propagate their work. And at times I feel like spinning Opeth, I will refer to the said albums prior to 2010s. It was a carriage I hopped on mid-way and I assume it is time for me to get off at this station. 

Highlights: Next of Kin – Heart in Hand – Charlatan (partially) – Dignity (partially)

Rating:

Lyrics: 9.0

Artwork: 9.0

Musicianship: 8.0

Vocals: 8.0

Overall: 8.5

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