Opener ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ is a stunner. It kicks straight in with a keyboard style (courtesy of new member Joakim Svalberg) that Ken Hensley would be proud to call his own, before in classic Opeth style, they turn it on it’s head with a flute/piano section, then a gorgeous acoustic guitar melody as good as anything they have ever produced and then into a keyboard driven main passage. That’s the first two minutes! Michael Akerfeldt’s vocals – now all clean – slip effortlessly from Camel-style (the band not the animal – that would just be weird…) harmonies to his ultra-smooth trade-mark solo style. The song twists and turns (no choruses for Opeth!), to include fabulous drums/percussion, guitar and more great keys before seguing straight into the Eastern flavoured ‘Cusp Of Eternity’. Like a progressive, modern day ‘Gates Of Babylon’ you think you have the track sussed with it’s Don Airey style keyboard solo – but this is Opeth and they throw in time changes and chord progressions throughout that really, could only be Opeth.
Oh, I’m sorry, I’ve got ahead of myself – it feels nowadays like every Opeth review should start with a bit of a debate/complain about what the band sound like now? How they aren’t like “[Insert favourite Opeth album here]” any more. Right, OK, my opinion is that Opeth pretty much invented their own genre, then they have evolved it and grown. All the people who slag off Opeth for changing are the same people who would berate them for staying the same, for re-writing Blackwater Park or whatever. If you don’t like Opeth as Michael Akerfeldt has shaped them now then go listen to something else – it’s quite simple! Yes, Opeth’s back catalogue has albums I enjoy more than others – personally, for what it’s worth, my faves are “Still Life”, “Blackwater Park” “Deliverance” and “Damnation”, but if I want to hear them, I’ll go and play THOSE albums! I won’t grumble and bleat because the band’s new release is different to them, I’ll see if I like the new one, and if I don’t, tough shit. There’s enough reviews out there on the day of release to make an educated guess before purchase, so it’s your own fault if you buy an album hoping it will be something the band are not any more. Besides, every Opeth album has outstanding moments to varying degrees, so, with that out of the way. Let’s get back to “Pale Communion”…
Because “Moon Above, Sun Below” IS pure Opeth. More than 10 minutes long it is impossible to analyse, there just isn’t space. And to be honest I don’t want to, I just know I’d go on about the fabulous acoustic section, piano, Kings X vocal, the choppy guitar, stunning drumming etc, and in a month’s time I’ll read this and the song’s persona and how I perceive it will have totally changed. And look at the beautiful ‘Elysian Woes’ – to start with it could be straight off Genesis’ “Trick of the Tail”…but then it turns darker and becomes steadily, totally Opeth. By the end of the track the earlier comparison is almost wiped completely. Actually, on that note and getting a little side-tracked for a moment, I think one thing I’m really enjoying about this release is that thanks to Opeth 12 years ago, I went back and revisited Prog rock to see what all the fuss was about. And now I can hear how Akerfeldt is twisting and personalising bands like Blue Oyster Cult, Wishbone Ash (‘Goblin’ has a good feel of both of them…if you pardon the expression…), Caravan, Genesis, King Crimson, Camel and with the new keyboard parts, even ELP and Uriah Heep – plus so many more! Now I concede that this might be many regulars on this site’s idea of hell, but I say again – no-one’s actually forcing you to listen to Opeth.
This is a unique and heartfelt album – as most Opeth releases are (I say “most” – to be honest, I didn’t really get on with 2011’s “Heritage” – but now it finally makes a bit more sense. It was a transitional album – it was leading here. Three years later and only now does it make sense – that’s pure Opeth again). Nope, bugger it, if I try and detail every track I will still be writing this review next year (and nobody wants that!) – and I still won’t feel I’ve nailed it down. Also, there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t heard it either. Suffice to say, every track is very Opeth, even though the introduction of more keyboards has changed and evolved their sound even further. So, yes, it’s Opeth where they are now – but with different attitudes and arrangements, it’s where Opeth have always been.
There is always just that spark in every song on “Pale Communion” that makes you want to play it again, only to be amazed that you missed a striking part elsewhere on the song. I’ve always felt that way about an Opeth album – that’s never changed, and I doubt it ever will. On reflection, maybe this isn’t a “Metal” album and if it were done by any other band would it be on Ave Noctum? Well, I hope so, because this is an album AIMED at Metal fans – it’s for us! Because of the variety and diversity in Metal, we are the only musical genre nowadays that have the understanding, tolerance, open mindedness and intelligence to really GET this. An incredibly talented set of musicians, playing fabulous songs just for us – Opeth are ours – Celebrate them!
(9/10 Andy Barker)