by Alissa Ordabai
Staff Writer —
It’s never enough to simply wish for creative growth, and this is what this album illustrates better than anything else. A new direction and a new vision for a band are impossible without learning new things about music – something which takes both effort and time. You don’t suddenly become a jazz fusion player after getting to grips with elements of jazz harmony and jazz impro. You don’t become a concept artist by simply gluing together disparate fragments of different genres. And your creative horizons don’t automatically expand once you’ve introduced some Middle Eastern percussion and exterior surfaces of exotic music into your sound.
But the album’s main problem is not the lack of concept. It’s lack of direction. With its most ambitious tracks being stop-and-start, fragmented affairs; the record struggles with musical form where it matters the most, and sinks into blandness on its more structurally coherent cuts. It’s unclear if it’s the absence of stamina which forces the band to interrupt itself during their most experimental moments, or if it’s the lack of good melodies which could have supported the momentum.
While it’s certainly true that you don’t need melody to experiment, Opeth are not that far advanced to abstain from it altogether. They still rely on it, but their melodic ideas are not adequate to their ambitions. The result is that when Opeth set out to explore new terrain, most of the time they arrive nowhere. In short – they’ve bitten more than they could chew.
But if this record is really a search for new musical territories or simply a search for a new identity also remains a mystery. If it’s the former, then Opeth would have to soak up much more musical knowledge before making important or unique discoveries. Especially after artists like Frank Zappa have already so brilliantly presented connections within different genres of popular music, making them really interact as opposed to simply sit next to each other as it happens on this release.
And if the band was after a new identity on this release, then that didn’t quite work either: despite agglomerations of styles, genres, moods and types of arrangements that are new for them, musically it’s a fragile album with weak melodies, unfinished harmonic ideas and a muddled message. And what perhaps betrays the blandness at the core of this release the most – regardless of its claims to sophistication – is the insipid, anemic vocals of Mikael Åkerfeldt who throughout this record sounds like a restaurant singer catering for middle-class, middle-brow clientele with artistic pretensions.
Genre: Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal
2. The Devil’s Orchard
3. I Feel the Dark
8. The Lines in My Head
10. Marrow of the Earth
Label: Roadrunner Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 4/10