REVIEW: OPETH – “In Cauda Venenum”
Nearly thirty years since their inception and Opeth are still held in the highest regard among the metal community. A unit who not only contribute to the genres long standing vitality but push at its boundaries. On September 27th, the Swedish, progressive masters deliver their latest offering entitled ‘In Cauda Venenum’. Loosely translated from the Latin as “poison in the tail,” in the sense that the worst is yet to come, Opeth’s newest album serves as an antithesis to that sentiment. For ‘In Cauda Venenum’ is, arguably, Opeth’s most exciting and invigorating record to date.
If their more recent efforts, most notably 2016’s ‘Sorceress’, exhumed strong elements of jazz-funk and freestyle jamming to greater or lesser success, ‘In Cauda Venenum‘ trades this for something far more direct and undeviating, with a sweep, at times, bordering on the operatic. Throughout, songs strike an impressive balance between fluidity and predetermined without being rigid. Showing Opeth’s unmistakable influence on the modern progressive genre, leading single ‘Heart In Hand’ delivers a delicate, daring, and dramatic affair, weaving a seductive web with all the scope and sweep of a Rush anthem, traveling through a plethora of states and emotions as it does so.
As if once wasn’t enough, the quintet goes and do it all over again on “Dignity,” whose harmonized, operatic vocals soar over the intro before plummeting into spoken words, this contrast of high and low, fast and slow, is a motif that’s played with over and over. Hints of Queen, and the masterful Rush once again, run through in the marrow of this piece, with hints of Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” pulsating through the latter stages of this minor beauty that you simply have to surrender to. Musically, guitars by Frederik Åkesson and Mikael Akerfeldt effortlessly find themselves at the forefront of these numbers, which highlight these architects of the style to great effect.
If ‘2016’ Sorceress’ tricked many listener’s ears into thinking Opeth had brought back some of their more beloved heavier elements to go along with their newer, jazz-funk approach, ‘In Cauda Venenum’ goes further in bringing these heavier components right to the forefront. ‘Charlatan’ is a stunning example. Throughout, Martin Mendez lays down a thickened, well-rounded bass that serves as an integral foundation to the piece. All the while, Joakim Svalberg on the keys is left to his own devices and evidently has something of a field day, delivering his poignant yet playful synth sounds.
Originally recorded in their native Swedish, Akerfeldt embraced the challenge to deliver two versions of the album; one in Swedish and one in English, affording the informed listener the opportunity to experience ‘In Cauda Venenum’ in two very different ways. This becomes apparent listening to compositions such as the hauntingly beautiful ‘The Garroter’. While it may be the most mellow track on the record, it is undeniably powerful in delivery, with production creating a space that is not quite as dark, or as sinister, as one might expect from Opeth. Indeed, it almost risks being something romantically evocative.
While it might be a misconception for their fans to assume that Opeth can do no wrong, ‘In Cauda Venenum’ they see them make a pretty good case. Playfully poetic and musically visceral, if the worst truly is yet to come, you won’t find it on ‘In Cauda Venenum’. For ‘In Cauda Venenum’ serves as a testament that Opeth’s music has not yet been demystified. That it can still offer a sense of the ethereal, entice through exoticism, and is a worthy bastion of good organic songwriting. Certain to leave Opeth fans itching for more in kind, there is much more to be enjoyed here than sheer brute force. Musically, lyrically and linguistically, Opeth have gone the extra mile. And it shows.