There are few artists on the face of this doomed planet able to cause feelings of desperation and fear via the playing of what is basically jazz than Swedish proggists Opeth; Artists other than Jamie Callum and Michael Bublé, anyway. But midway through the eighth track on their new record, In Cauda Venenum, appositely entitled The Garroter, you may well mind yourself sweating heavily, throat tightening, chest heaving, as the band pile on the gloom via a keyboard/bass line that The Stranglers’ Dave Greenfield would fight Serge Gainsbourg for for ownership… this is sheer mastery of the art of storytelling through sound, and it’s one of the greatest things latter day Opeth has ever committed to wax.
I say one, because this album also houses one of the other great moments of recent vintage Mikael Åkerfeldt creativity, viz a viz swoonsome songwriting and superior axeplay. In Lovelorn Crime Opeth has truly come up with an accessible magnum opus for the ages, a track that’ll be at home on commercial rock radio as much as it’s more ‘niche’ counterparts. Here we witness truly the crossing over of Opeth into the classic rock mainstream – if they want to, that is– and it’s a truly glorious, spine-tingling moment of beauty.
I’m probably getting a little carried away, of course – this isn’t Opeth’s Invisible Touch, after all – and bearded accolytes of improbably-difficult-to-form-chord-shapes and impenetrable instrumental passages will rest easy knowing there are plenty of both stored away within the grooves of ICV. Any album that manages to kick off sounding like David Byron-era Uriah Heep in 2019 is never going to sell out it’s soul to the man completely, after all. And in closing track All Things Will Pass – a strident piece of seventies prog metal par excellence – the band restate their credentials in impressive fashion, leaving no listener unsure of where this band’s inspiration truly derives as it’s deliciously anthemic guitar coda fades into the ether.
That said, there is definitely a sense of immediacy present on In Cauda Venenum that your humble interlocutor hasn’t felt on the last few Opeth releases. This is an album that challenges the listener, as usual, but this time around that challenge is readily, hungrily accepted and that’s a state of affairs that makes this record one of the band’s best in a long, long time.
In Cauda Venenum is out now.