Album Review: Opeth – Pale Communion

The Swedish prog rock titans are back with their 11th full length ‘Pale Communion’ and the first to feature new keyboardist Joakim Svalberg. With peaks, troughs and very little middle ground, it’s an album that’s sure to divide opinion from the core fans.

Opener ‘Eternal Rains Will Come’ commences with elongated instrumentals, leaning on folk-rock lulls and the prog eccentricities of the Canterbury era bands like Caravan. ‘Cusp Of Eternity’ follows in a brooding manner, but its an effort that feels too safe for Opeth and perhaps even disinterested in terms of the vocal delivery. ‘Moon Above, Sun Below’ once again utilises the prevalent guitars and organs playoffs successfully. A quick solo gives way to acoustic passages, rooting further into the folkier end of the prog spectrum. The symphonic space rock stylings – akin to long time influences Camel – employed in the final couple of minutes are overly theatrical and dated. And yet, for all the grandeur this band usually rests their laurels on, ‘Elysian Woes’ is an oddly timid effort. Folk tinged acoustic passages eventually reside over a Zero 7-esque bedding of down tempo beats and synthesised strings. It’s certainly not the Opeth we know, and it’s really not a side of them we’re interested to know more of.

The carousel like turns of the instrumental ‘Goblin’ create some nice tension and there’s a good show of musical virtuosity here. Influenced by and titled in homage for the band of the same name, it’s probably the best of the tracks that leans towards the more familiar Opeth stylings. If it wasn’t already evident, ‘River’ exposes the folk influences of the album at their most apparent. The picked acoustic and harmonies opening the track are very pleasing for this approach. Its only at the four minute mark where Opeth drift back into the predictable, stale prog indulgences that we lose interest.

The string arrangements overlaying the foreboding organs in ‘Voice Of Treason’ evoke menace and mystery, and the choruses are some of the heavier moments of the album. Closer ‘Faith In Others’ sees a delicate introduction of strings, swung beats, giving way to a sparse piano line and tender vocals. But for 8 minutes of build up, there’s no real payoff. Every time you’re expecting the track toll lift onto higher terrain, it falls completely flat and gasps for air.

It must be said that whilst the album wildly polarises in quality, nothing here REALLY delivers in a way that you’d expect for these rock veterans. Opeth have always been one step ahead of their peers on prior efforts. Take the side by side releases of ‘Damnation’ and ‘Deliverance’ as key examples. Other than the abundance of folkier influences which really colour ‘Pale Communion’ in a refreshing hue, it feels like Opeth have made an unwise decision to simply make do on this record.


‘Pale Communion’ by Opeth is out now on Roadrunner Records.

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Words by Joe Danher


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