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Album Review: Opeth Prog Their Best Prog on In Cauda Venenum

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A lot of fans want Opeth to go back to doing the death metal thing. It makes sense. They were damn good at it. Hell, I want In Flames to go back to doing proper death metal all the time, so I get it. Unlike their fellow Swedes, however, Opeth are making some of the best music of their career right now, and without giving a damn about popularity or what anyone else thinks. In Cauda Venenum may very well be their best prog rock effort to date. In two languages, no less!

The Swedish-language version is the one we’ll be talking about here. It’s singer/composer Mikael Åkerfeldt’s first language, it’s way prettier than English, and the vocal melodies feel like they were developed with those lyrics in mind. While the English translation works, it feels slightly awkward. It also lacks the trills and organic flow of the Scandinavian-friendly version. Even if you can’t understand the language (and I can’t), it complements the beauty of the instrumental tracks better. And these are some of Åkerfeldt’s most gorgeous compositions to date, every song seamlessly fitting together.

Even the intro track feels essential. “Livets Trädgård” starts things off with pulsating electronics, wordless choral singing, and an insistent synth plink that grows louder as it goes before exploding into “Svekets Prins.” If you miss the really evil stuff, that song proves Opeth haven’t gone totally soft. It’s some seriously heavy prog that plunges the listener right into the band’s trademark darkness. The soulful soloing feels more classic metal than classic rock, like something Randy Rhoads might’ve come up with. “Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör” is a straight-up rager, catchy in any language, and finds the band dabbling with a Page/Clapton-esque coda. “Charlatan” messes around with some King Crimson Frippery, a fun excursion. They also bring in some jazz elements: “Banemannen” uses wire brushes and “Kontinuerlig Drift” has what sounds like some kind of woodwind providing a quiet counterpoint to the raging guitars.

Even with all the nods to artists that came before, it still feels distinctly (and unmistakably) Opeth. The songwriting patterns, Åkerfeldt’s emotive croon, the playful ominous tone — it’s all there. If this was any other band’s work, it would undoubtedly be the highlight of their career. Opeth’s career is filled with highlights. Even still, In Cauda Venenum is up there with classics like My Arms, Your Hearse and Blackwater Park, death metal or not.

Opeth’s In Cauda Venenum comes out Friday. Check out “Svekets Prins” here and pre-order the album here.

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