Opeth - In Cauda Venenum
Moderbolaget Records
Progressive Rock / Metal
10 songs (1:07:53)
Release year: 2019
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

Thirteen albums in and the story of Opeth continues to grow. By now well settled into their throwback prog period the band are ferociously driven by themselves, discarding any remnants of death metal long ago to good (Pale Communion) and not so good (Sorceress) results. They've even started their own label, the perennial sign of a band determined to own the fruits of their labour and so far reactions to In Cauda Venenum (Latin for 'poison in the tail') have been positive. Yet there's still a defensiveness amongst enthusiastic fans of the band's latter direction that reveals itself in snide comments about metal fans unwilling to get their heads around a lack of growls. Sure, bands move on but nothing that Opeth has done in the last ten years matches up to past classics like Still Life or Blackwater Park and we all know it. So going into yet another new Opeth album will always have an air of disappointment, like eating a favourite chocolate bar that has had the recipe changed to reduce that magical, delicious sugar; it's still good, but it's not as good as you remember. We're fortunate that we can still dig out those old albums and relive the past, but new music from old favourites will always both thrill and disappoint.

And In Cauda Venenum does thrill but largely disappoints. It's definitely better than Sorceress, reducing the wispy, inconsequential folk noodlings and adding genuine experimentation, but the results in terms of songwriting aren't up there with Pale Communion, which remains the one genuine gem in the band's post-death era. The two versions of the album, one sung in the band's native Swedish, one in English, seems an interesting move on the surface, yet unless you can speak both then it's impossible to really understand the difference, the nuances that will be plain to a Swede yet go over the heads of us Anglocentrists. And how many classic extreme metal albums have non-English lyrics, yet are wonderful works of art even without time spent with Google Translate? So although you can sense a slightly greater enthusiasm in Åkerfeldt's Swedish performance than his English one (and few would deny the man has become an excellent singer) there's not much difference really.

The songs themselves bear far more scrutiny, not least from the opening oddness of keyboard-drenched intro Livets Trädgård / Garden of Earthly Delights, closer to Tangerine Dream than usual touchstones like Camel, complete with a pulsing electronic backing and layered samples of church bells, people walking, and of a child speaking about death in Swedish (on the English version too!). It's like little else you've heard from Opeth, and sets the scene well for a varied, interesting album, starting with Svekets Prins / Dignity, a far more typical piece from the band with some of that old Opeth groove at the root, spicing things up with acoustic guitars and keyboards galore and more samples, not to mention some excellent lead guitar before a breakdown and near-falsetto singing atop acoustic strums. The Steven Wilson influence is plain as it proceeds into a Porcupine Tree-esque section, radiantly beautiful, driven by vocals before turning darker and ending with sampled laughter. It's a great track that could have come from an older album (not hard to imagine some death growls in the middle somewhere) even with the greater prog touch, and the band go onto even heavier terrain with the following Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör / Heart in Hand kicking off with groovy chugging that's almost like something from the Deliverance days meets Slither from Heritage. There's an extended breakdown that approaches psychedelic rock territory, and even the expected acoustic interlude is perfectly-timed and rewarding, not to mention the killer drumming from Axenrot throughout.

Sadly, not all tracks present are that good, although they're often worth hearing. The following De Närmast Sörjande / Next of Kin has a doom / folk vibe which only works intermittently thanks to the overwhelming focus on the vocals and a slightly repetitive song structure, although some more gorgeous guitar work later in the track helps. Minnets Yta / Lovelorn Crime, conversely, is a vocal-dominated orchestral ballad that absolutely works thanks to the power of Åkerfeldt's performance; he really is the heart and soul of the band, as good as his fellow musicians are. And although the experiments are always appreciated, they don't always work - the guitar tone on parts of Charlatan is downright djenty, for instance, and contrasts poorly with the whimsical backing keyboards, and the lengthy sample towards the end verges on the obnoxious. Ingen Sanning är Allas / Universal Truth is very almost boring, mostly reminiscent of Sorceress' folksy meanderings, while the jazzy Banemannen / The Garroter is a welcome change-up in the formula but doesn't do enough with its nearly-seven minute length to warrant inclusion. The second half of the album really drags; thankfully closing piece Allting Tar Slut / All Things Will Pass returns to quality with a piano-focused build-up that launches into another doomy riff, slightly overlong at over eight minutes but providing a smoothly pretty outro that fades away. An overlong album badly in need of an editorial hand willing to cut flab, it has worthwhile moments but ultimately it is just another disappointing Opeth album.

Killing Songs :
Svekets Prins / Dignity, Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör / Heart in Hand
Goat quoted 70 / 100
Other albums by Opeth that we have reviewed:
Opeth - Sorceress reviewed by Goat and quoted 65 / 100
Opeth - Pale Communion reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Heritage reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Orchid reviewed by James and quoted 79 / 100
Opeth - Watershed reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 94 / 100
To see all 15 reviews click here
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