Pale Communion


Roadrunner, 2014

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Opeth has officially joined the list of artists who have cast aside fan expectations to follow their own musical path. Fans who feared Heritage was the first step in a new direction were right to be worried, as Pale Communion is much the same: progressive rock/metal with “clean” vocals and the odd time signatures, keyboards and multi-part suites that characterize all progressive rock.

It’s also quite good, better than Heritage, almost equaling the heights of Blackwater Park. And honestly, Opeth fans have to admit that from that watershed moment on, an actual prog rock album would not have been out of character, inasmuch as Blackwater Park also was progressive rock, just with more death metal and less Emerson, Lake & Palmer influence.

Pale Communion shares the same sort of instrumentation and feel as other neo-prog outfits like Dream Theater and Spock’s Beard; there is nary a scream in sight, but the sound is dense, twisty and requires multiple listens, which the listener will be only too happy to do if they like this sort of music. Guitarist Fredrik Åkesson shines throughout, particularly on the second cut “Cusp Of Eternity,” which features a great solo from him and a fantastic repetitive riff over a galloping rhythm section. It was a great choice for the first single and may bring in some new fans to the band.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Eternal Rains Will Come” and “Moon Above, Sun Below” are more traditional progressive rock, with plenty of keyboard solos; the latter is a 10-minute multi-part suite that doesn’t quite cohere, feeling like three or four fragments of songs stitched together without an overarching theme. Granted, this is pretty standard with longer prog songs, and it’s not a path Opeth usually treads, so they can be forgiven. I actually heard “Eternal Rains” on an Internet modern rock station, which was both out of place and quite welcome in its unique structure, moving from an instrumental drum/keyboard duet to a flute/piano midsection to a killer closing section with plenty of organ work (including a Mellotron!).

A hint of menace and melancholy color the slowed-down “Elysian Rain,” complete with lovely background vocals, which leads into the fusion jazz-inflected “Goblin” and then “River,” a downright upbeat acoustic number with some nice layered vocal harmonies (no Opeth-esque growling on Pale Communion, please) and a clear, almost Southern-rock electric guitar solo. These three songs are about as far from the “standard” Opeth as one can get, showing a band that is willing to experiment, grow and take risks on its 11th album. More power to them.

“Voice Of Treason” is a standout, the heaviest and most sinister song here, anchored by a strong bottom-end riff over which strings and keyboards trade places, the whole thing sounding like the photo negative of “Cusp Of Eternity.” Closer “Faith In Others” brings back the strings and then fades in the rock instruments, sounding like the end credits to a movie as the forlorn hero walks into the distance; it is probably the most nakedly emotional we’ve ever seen this band.

Pale Communion is intricate and unexpected the way progressive rock should be, expertly blending ‘70s-inspired prog, modern prog, metal and jazz while remaining an Opeth album. If this is the direction they are headed, I’m on board.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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