Among the unknowing, Opeth has a reputation as one of those typical Scandinavian black metal bands. But they left most of that genre’s stereotypes behind ages ago when they went prog. This album will probably divide longtime fans sharply into two camps – those who praise the band’s continuing progression and experimentation, and the rest who cry sellout. (You can see that pattern in the reviews here.) Regardless, open-minded and adventurous listeners will find this album unexpectedly fascinating. The album is primarily quiet and haunting, with snippets of brutal metal appearing occasionally to manipulate the mood. (Your typical prog metal band constructs albums in the opposite fashion.) Keyboards and melodic vocals are prominent, with the lengthy songs laid out as suites passing through many experiments in style and emotion.
On first playing the opener “Coil,” I was telling myself that the fragile acoustic balladry was just an intro and would surely erupt into loud metal at any second, but the song remains quiet throughout. Other thematic surprises include the bizarre jazz fusion break in “The Lotus Eater” and the detuned acoustic guitar solo that finishes off “Burden.” Opeth remains among a dying breed of artists who construct albums as full compositions, with unexpected connections between songs and unconventional arrangements, and all of the band’s adventures in experimentation can be found in the extra-epic “Hessian Peel.” The only potential source of concern for this album is that with so many recent line-up changes, the Opeth sound now appears to be mostly a showcase for the ideas and talents of leader Mikael Akerfeldt and not so much a group effort, though fortunately keyboardist Per Wilberg and brand new drummer Martin Axenrot are especially impressive here. Not to mention Akerfeldt’s continuing sense of musical adventure, on constant display throughout this fascinating album. [~doomsdayer520~]