Wednesday, December 14, 2011

12 Days of Christmetal: Heritage - Opeth - 2011

As I read through everyone's "Best of 2011" lists it is quickly apparent that I missed a boatload of incredible heavy metal this year. I've been ordering like a fiend, trying to catch up and round out my year, more or less gifting myself a'plenty prior to the actual holiday. In the tradition of partridges, pear trees, milky maids and all, I want to give a brief flyby to a dozen records I missed earlier this year, starting with Opeth's Heritage.

Heritage was, of course, a big deal out of the gate according to anyone in the know (i.e., anyone but me) as the band were apparently taking another big leap in departure from an established metal sound. I know Opeth are revered but also admit I only gave them a single try years ago with Damnation, was way, way underwhelmed and never gave the band another thought. I heard some Heritage tracks over LiquidMetal on XM Radio over the last few months and those combined with the unending press I keep reading led me to grab the record.

I really have nothing with which to compare Heritage in that I remain ignorant of Opeth's other works and have entirely forgotten Damnation. So, taking it as a standalone album, I am pleased to pronounce it absolutely solid. And, funny, because from what I read, Heritage appears to be as much a departure from the "Opeth" sound as was Damnation. Certainly time has tempered what I expect from "metal" (and perhaps, then, Damnation, too, deserves a second chance) and expecting a proggy record, I was not at all dissatisfied to hear exactly that.

Heritage offers a multitude of prog standards: significant changes in dynamics, tempo, melody around complicated chord progressions and stellar musicianship. It's a good slab of heavy prog rock while not necessarily great. Again, it may be night and day compared with the band's other work and I could see how this may be jaw-dropping in comparison to a drastically different style. Still, I compare this to another band who went from death to neo-folk-prog and turned to crap along the way, Amorphis, and I would much rather play Heritage a thousand times over than listen to The Beginning of Times again. And that's not so say Heritage rocks one iota more than the Amorphis record (it doesn't) - it's just that much better of an album. There is a classic prog warmth, an accomplished complexity and overarching, enveloping tone to the proceedings that places this record comfortably alongside classic prog rock as well as the finer contemporary purveyors (Astra holds the crown as my current favorite). Again, it wouldn't crack my previously established Top Ten (or even Twenty) and won't replace any all-time greats but it plays without any embarrassment as well.

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