Heritage is the Opeth album that not merely asks you to speak their musical language. It demands it. On its surface, the record speaks in softer tongues than the nine albums before it; but make no mistake: this will go down as the Swedes’ most “difficult” album. It will be Opeth’s most discussed, debated and discovered album to date. It’s likely a lot of old school fans may hate it at first.
Here are some broad strokes. There are absolutely no heavy vocals. No trace of the old death metal rifferama that once anchored at least half of the band’s epic approach. There’s nary an epic-length song to be heard: the average one clocking in around six minutes or under. Heritage certainly isn’t a return to the quieter meditations of Opeth’s Damnation album or the acoustic-y likes of “Isolation Years” or “Coil” from Ghost Reveries and Watershed In fact, Heritage is much more of a watershed than Watershed ever was!
Mikael Ackerfeldt doesn’t seem content to merely redefine the boundaries of what Opeth is about: this time around it feels like he wants to rip up the very nature of what progressive rock is supposed to be and put it back together. “The Devil’s Orchard” lulls you in with its “riffs-and-rhythms-in-freefall” hypno-groovola and a simple sung refrain: “God Is Dead”. “I Feel The Dark” is literally where the album’s “journey” begins: Mikael’s plaintive croon drifting over a quiet looping guitar that momentarily darkens and heavies up without losing the song’s baroque trappings.
There’s been much discussion about Heritage’s oft-esoteric vibe being recorded live on the floor as opposed to the “normal” over quantified and computer corrected metal production techniques. Drummer Martin Axenrot and bassist Martin Mendes are adroit enough as a rhythm section to become an active anachronism. They’re imperfect and funkier than anyone in the game, In the meantime, Acky does a fine job fearlessly channeling his own Ian Anderson (that’s from Jethro Tull, kiddies!).
“Hexprocess” and “Famine” feel like compositions from Hell’s very own jam band. They’re largely instrumental compositions that wouldn’t have fit on any of Opeth’s prior albums. There are plenty of moments here that would elude the more “structured” first nine albums. In fact, mixer, Porcupine Tree man main man and longtime Opeth co-hort Steven Wilson has quietly recorded an unreleased album with Akerfeldt that in its
Opeth operates on a truly strange nexus. They musically reach for stars on a foundation built from rock, jazz and metal’s “almosts” rather than its victors. I also maintain that Heritage, more than any of the band’s none prior “meditations” (that’s what they call ‘em) is the product of a very educated albeit hyper-headed music obsessive. Camel, Caravan, the lighter shade of Sabbath, obscure Swedish jazzers Lamberk (whom Opeth are guilty liberally borrowing from) remains the touchpoints. Heritage does a fine job penning its own love letter to Mikael’s encyclopedic record collection.
So is this a good Opeth record? Unequivocally yes. Disjointed? Yes. Like any of their prior catalog, it possesses moments of brilliance that will certainly cause debate amongst the cognoscenti as to whether they are truly “Opeth”. Warning: the surgeon general emphatically urges you to give this one more than one listen before you make up your mind as to what Ackerfledt & Co. are up to these days. To be sure, Heritage is a record where their ambition and talent are on equal footing.
Power of the Riff began last year as a one-day festival celebrating the heaviest edge of underground metal. Curated by Southern Lord label boss Greg Anderson, also known for his own volume-abuse in Sunn 00 and Goatsnake, as well as cohort and Nighthorse frontman Sam Velde, POTR scored in its second year. The festival’s inaugural installment was a sure-fire score: a collection of bands – including Black Breath and Trap Them (both of whom returned this year) and punctuated with reunion performances from C.O.C., From Ashes Rise and Goatsnake. How did they pull it off? Thank you Converse for corporate sponsorship money. And admission for all: free.
No sneaker money this year. Admission had to be charged. Rather than try and replicate last year’s festival, Power of the Riff focused on Southern Lord’s friends and family. Early Graves, the San Francisco band who were supposed to open last year but lost vocalist Mahk Daniels in a van accident, returned to open the show with one of the sets of the day. New frontman, the Funeral Pyre’s John Strachan makes an impressive addition to the band’s already blackened deathly grind.
Upstairs in the venue’s much smaller room, the likes of local black metallers Harrasor spit vitriol. Fellow locals Aegus bordered on heavy indie rock with members of 16 and Pelican along for the ride – they didn’t measure up to either’s better known “day gigs”. It was the low-end-worshiping, hardcore-worshipping sludge of Seven Sisters of Sleep who brought the room to life.
Acephalix frontman Dan had no issues jumping into the audience in the venue’s big room to incite a reaction. The San Francisco four piece less than subtly balanced elements of hardcore, death metal and grind giving the big bald man a backdrop of chaos to stomp around, not particularly afraid of intimidating the audience. On a big stage it was a bit of a mixed bag. In a smaller setting, this could be terrifying.
All Pigs Must Die was the day’s most anticipated and without a doubt took hold of the crowd and refused to let go to the bitter, bloody end. Frontman Kevin Baker has already proved himself a master of intimidation in The Hope Conspiracy. APMD pushes that into the red. They revel in raw, dark hardcore and metal at its most furious, coalescing together to create a live barrage loaded with a sizable “what the fuck” factor. On the big stage, they come across like a mean, grinding metallic machine. This is truly what hardcore is supposed to be.
Trap Them were a surprising disappoint as they were apparently breaking in a new guitarist with a surprisingly lackluster set. Pelican, by comparison, sounded, impressive utilizing the big room to work the crowd with a surprisingly on-point set of immense and often complex instrumentals. In the small room upstairs Skin Like Iron mixed a malignant sludge with hardcore leanings: what they do is enough to rattle one’s fillings.
One of the major surprises on the main stage at last year’s Power Of The Riff was Seattle’s Black Breath who, this year, closed the smaller room’s line-up (which ended promptly before the festival headliners took the stage). With a new guitarist in tow, they remain a rambunctious metal machine of the purest strain., their set, culled mostly from the Southern Lord released ‘Heavy Breathing’ LP, is a powder keg of old-School Swedish (Entombed and Dismember not At The Gates) sounds and hardcore ferocity. Black Breath’s intensity was only magnified by the closed-quarters in which they played. In short: the kids went off.
You don’t watch slo-mo underground legends Winter for their onstage aerobics. You bear witness to the shuddering sonics that roll from the stage like a tsunami of sound. The lights go down, the band shudders into “Oppression Freedom” from their only album Into Darkness. It’s not entirely without a bit of humor; when drummer Jimmy Jackson asks for more guitar in his monitor, bassist/vocalist John Alman tells him: “Don’t break character” with a Long Island accent worthy of fellow New Yorkers Suffocation. It doesn’t matter what they could possibly say that would usurp the mood. Winter’s cold, painfully slow musical movements speak for themselves.
Evening closers Eyehategod and Pentagram are near-opposites born from the same stew. EHG, The New Orleans-bred institution are a sloppy, punk-rock-in-intent bunch that prove themselves as vital (albeit vastly more sober) as they were during their day as major musical threat. The NOLA bunch’s set begins with frontman Mike Williams screaming something about keeping the houselights on seconds before the band launches into the classic “White Nigger”. There’s not a lot of pretense or nicety to this bunch. Then again, Eyehategod have always embodied metal at its meanest – nothing wrong there. By comparison, Pentagram, are a more poised sort of classic-rock often mistakenly called “doom”. Healthy, born-again frontman Bobby Liebling works the crowd like a man out of time that, in fact, he is.
The Echoplex remained full to the end: a sign that despite the lineup or price at the door that Power of The Riff was a heavy-volume success story. All hail the Lord – the Southern one that is.
Current release: Rites of Desecration (split w/ Sadomator) (NWN 2011)
For fans of: Teitanblood, Sarcofago, Beherit, Proclamation, Black Witchery
Bestial, filthy black vomit. Fast, relentless blasting, raw productions, wild invocations, and a devilishly primitive aesthetic. Morbosidad were spawned in the early nineties, and sound like it. Three full-lengths and a veritable onslaught of demos, EPs, and splits illustrate their particular brand of thrashy, South American-scented nuclear attack in blood, and one can only hope that a new LP is on the way. Take cover…
For fans of: Hellhammer, early Bathory, Venom, early Darkthrone, Parabellum
Authors of the immortal poser-stomping battlecry, “If you are a false, don’t entry!” the Brazilian metaleros of Sarcofago are an untouchable part of extreme metal history. Their primitive black thrashing assault, leather-and-spike-clad image, and Satanic lust laid the groundwork for black metal’s unholy rites, and the classic trio of I.N.R.I., Rotting, and The Laws of Scourge still remain some of the most perfect documents of blasphemous evil to ever emerge from the South American wasteland. Crush, kill, destroy!
Current release: Gospel of Pestilence (Translation Loss 2011)
For fans of: Watain, Urgehal, Mayhem, Forest Silence, early Darkthrone, Woe
Bringers of Disease prepare their menacing take on USBM with a bit of European flavor, invoking more of Watain’s Satanic majesty than Wolves in the Throne Room’s atmospheric manifestos. Hailing from Dayton, Ohio (a bit more’n a hop skip and a jump away from the fjords of Norway), this young band have managed to do something special: blend influences from both US and European black metal, and some up with something wonderfully satisfying. This is, to put it simply, a black metal record. Rooted in the old school and unafraid to bust out a cadre of headbangable riffs, Gospel of Pestilence is a triumph of Satanic might. It’s not experimental, or ambient, or hardcore-infused, or technical, or progressive, and its atmosphere is confined to an accent, rather than an instrument. Progression is all well and good, but there’s nothing wrong with pouring your heart and lack of soul into making a straight-up, easily categorizable, wholly honest album. The Scandinavian hordes have surely made their black mark upon Bringers of Disease’s sound, but we of the USBM hordes should be proud to count them amongst our own.
Their newest release, Gospel of Pestilence, is due out on Translation Loss any day now. You can stream the whole EP here – I recommend that you do. http://stereogum.com/721392/stream-bringers-of-disease-gospel-of-pestilence/franchises/haunting-the-chapel/
Rompeprop are one of the most fun live bands of all time, I’m convinced. Shit gets silly whenever these Dutch pornogrinders hit the stage.
On record, the production is laughably muddy and their compositions are a few shades to the left of “sophisticated,” but if you dig groovy, bouncy goregrind with lots of fucked-up samples, Rompeprop are the band for you.
Current release: Channeling the Acheron (No Colours 2003)
For fans of: Abigail, Witchtrap, Aura Noir, Sodom, Nocturnal
2003′s excellent Channeling the Acheron serves as the one and only offering from this sadly-defunct Teutonic horde. Black thrash doesn’t get much better than this! Catchy, razor-sharp thrash riffs grapple with black metal’s intensity and misanthropic chords, owing more to Sodom as it does to Darkthrone but still cultivating an appropriately blackened atmosphere. Satisfyingly primitive and unabashedly derivative, this is full-on 80′s worship of the highest caliber. Reinvent the wheel? Fuck that, just throw some spikes on that bitch and ATTACK!
For fans of: Les Discrets, Dispirit, Alcest, Tenhi, Altar of Plagues,
Finally, after a couple tantalising demos, Oskoreien have graced us with their full-length debut. The sole effort of Valencia, California’s Jay M. Valena combines the glorious chaos of black metal with the pastoral grace of neofolk. The LP showcases a fully-realized concept and startlingly mature compositions, improving a thousandfold from the earlier material’s earnest but slightly clumsy efforts. Swaths of grandiosity in the vein of Bathory’s classic Viking era meld with harsh vocals, gentle acoustic guitars, and an incredible sense of melody. Neige should be taking notes from this lone California dreamer.
Joyful, sorrowful, beautiful. You will not be disappointed. You will not be left unmoved.
For fans of: Exhumed, Impaled, General Surgery, Carcass, Birdflesh
The gods of gore have returned! After a five-year silence, Haemorrhage have released a brand-new full-length via longtime allies Relapse. Hospital Carnage is a study in calculated brutality, filtered through the kind of sloppy, punk-as-fuck mentality that makes good grind so awesome. Thick, bottom-heavy guitar tones and a verging-upon-DIY recording keep things ugly, while the up-tempo grooves and d-beat breaks are a messy circle pit waiting to happen. Like their peers in Exhumed and General Surgery, Haemorrhage have made a career out of worshipping Carcass’ symphonies of sickness, but have managed to put enough of their own stamp on the sound to keep it as appealing as freshly spilled viscera. Spawned during death metal’s glory days and armed with a dizzying number of releases (including a seemingly endless parade of splits with scene luminaries like Impaled, Ingrowing, Embalming Theatre, and Disgorge) under their bloodsoaked aprons, Haemorrhage are goregrind OGs, and have shown no signs of slowing down. Get ready for Hospital Carnage.
After blowing me away with last year’s Dryad demo, Petrychor have returned with their debut full-length offering. Entitled Effigies and Epitaphs, the album was conceived as one singular composition, and flows as gently and powerfully as a river. Spanning multiple genres and eras, Petrychor‘s nameless creators draw as much from post rock as they do black metal and folk, entertaining acoustic and ambient elements and curating an almost holy atmosphere. This is worship music, intended for forest clearings and open skies. The band terms what they do as, “Cataclysmic catharsis in remembrance of the scorched earth,” and after spending a few moments alone with Effigies and Epitaphs, one can imagine why. Ethereal vocals are swept away by howling wind, furious riffing burns off the neoclassical polish, sheer intensity crushes the frailest elements. Like Mother Nature itself, Petrychor’s music is a thing of beauty – but oh, what a terrible beauty it can be.
The album has been offered up here (http://petrychor.bandcamp.com/album/effigies-and-epitaphs) as a free download (with a pay-what-you-wish option that I strongly encourage you to patronize) alongside an ambient companion EP, Artistry of Exhaustion II, which was composed under the Carbonscape moniker and can be downloaded for free at carbonscape.bandcamp.com.