Saturday, August 30, 2014

Opeth - Pale Communion (2014)

Eternal 70's Prog Homage Comes Forth:

When the much beloved Swedish progressive metal titans opted to discard their death metal roots for their tenth album Heritage as a fan of both the band and 70's prog rock music I was much curious to see how things will work out. It was definitely not an easy decision to make a sudden departure from their original much appreciated sound that has influenced a generation of underground metal bands. But I've always liked Opeth for their brazen creativity. Alas, it didn't click that well for Heritage as it did for Damnation.
While it wasn't something appaling it wasn't exactly decent either. The result was a set of folk-jazz-progressive rock fusion tunes which sounded rather 'dull' than 'innovative', a word much associated with the band prior to this album. While the band gained some new followers old fans were alienated regarding their opinion.

Pale Communion attempts to rectify the errors of its predecessor by making the sound much tight and balanced. The long time associate of the band and Mikael Akerfeldt's soulmate Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield) is back again for mixing duties and Travis Smith demonstrates a gorgeous piece of artwork yet again.

The record kicks-off with "Eternal Rains Will Come", with organs trembling all over, a few moments of acoustic calmness to slow things down, soon after the organs come pumping again leading to Akerfeldt, Akesson and Svalberg's multi-tracked vocal harmonies. The solo is quite well executed as well. "Cusp of Eternity" is full of melodrama with a cheesy chorus and blurry rhythm section. Also the solo is overdone like Steve Vai or Buckethead noodling and didn't seem to complement the song. "Moon Above, Sun Below" begins with a jazzy pace but all of a sudden gets surprisingly heavy with the burst of Blackwater Park territory riffing and even a glimpse of Akerfeldt's good ol' growl (although it sounds more like howling than growling) during "....They will eat from your head" but he holds back. Then it gradually delves into a progressive epic. Definitely the best song the band has churned out in recent years with a shade of old Opethian brilliance that we all love and crave.

The instrumental "Goblin" is a tribute to the namesake Italian prog rockers and it wouldn't seem out of place in their Roller record. The drumming of Axenrot and synth playing of Svalberg are clear highlights on this one. "River" is a catchy tune, while mostly acoustic ventures into heavier territory during
closing minutes. The album concludes with plodding, gentle and rather unexciting "Faith in Others" which harks back the dull moments of Heritage.

Pale Communion is certainly a step up from its predecessor but overall it doesn't sound 'innovative' and 'fresh' as words like these used to be synonymous with Opeth. While a much better homage to 70's prog rock than Heritage the basic body of work found here has been done before a million times by bands like Spock's Beard, King's X, Unitopia and Karmakanic. Buy it if you're a die-hard fan or for Travis Smith's brilliant artwork, otherwise download "Eternal Rains..", "Moon Above, Sun Below" and "River" from iTunes.

Rating - ★★★ (64% on Metal-Archives)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Pallbearer - Foundations of Burden (2014)

Bearing Naysayers with Pride:

Since the debut of the Arkansas doom quartet they've gained a fair amount of
acclaim as well as negligible number of naysayers. And like all wise minds Pallbearer too don't care about their detractors. That's why they're back with all of their defining traits in their sophomore effort. Foundations of Burden has all the characteristics of Sorrow and Extinction and a few fresh stylistic approaches to expand their sound into a new ground.

First of all the album is mixed by Billy Anderson whose reputation within the doomy domain of rock and metal is no secret. From Melvins' Houdini to Eyehategod's Dopesick he has produced some of the topmost classics in doom and its subcategories. And certainly his touch has made Foundations of Burden more dynamic and varied than its predecessor.

Let me make this clear that Pallbearer are not about groovy and meaty "let's get stoned" riffs. If you're expecting doom akin to Sleep's Holy Mountain or Cathedral's The Ethereal Mirror then this record is not for you (probably most of the naysayers are having this problem I guess). They have some echoes of Patrick Walker's former band Warning in terms of doom with emotional depth. But that's about it. Their approach to doom metal is all about creating a melancholic atmosphere and forlorn aura. Of course a lot of doom bands have done it in the past but Pallbearer's sound rings perfection. For instance, the tranquil and serene nature of "Ashes" where Joseph Rowland's piano led atmosphere and Brett Campbell's spaced out pensive vocals take control. Of course there are Phrygian riffing in all of their heavy compositions but as I've said they are not about the grooves or catchiness but to complement the grief-laden melodies.

"Worlds Apart" begins with a Katatonia like lead coated in lumbering drones. The definite highlight of this song is its masterfully crafted a cappella-esque chorus. "Foundations" has a typical Sabbathian main riff, two other distinctive rhythmic improvisations, a moment of clean guitar silence after six minutes of funeral dirge and voila you're in for an epic closure:

"Descendants of dust
With faces carved from stone
The legacy of what has gone
Our paths connected by a thread
Only remains of the lies we led
Impart the weight of the years we shed"

"Watcher in the Dark" is arguably the heaviest song on the record featuring a thumping main riff unleashed right after a creative percussion jam. "The Ghost I Used to Be" is the ultimate stand-out drenched in somewhat weird uplifting
psychedelia and an unconventional almost alternative approach to traditional doom metal.

Coming back to the point of band's naysayers. While they're small in number their brain cells spend abnormally large time to cherry-pick vague flaws like "Hey! their album cover is un-metal or pink or purple or violet" (Born Too Late by Saint Vitus anyone? or Voivod's Nothingface or Sabbath's Master of Reality) or they're not quite heavy (Haha! There's enough crunch to their riffs. Ask Mike Scheidt of YOB) or "identity crisis" huh? Pallbearer's sound is rooted within traditional doom metal and they borrow influences from drone, funeral doom and psychedelia as well. Yea, it's not that complex but their execution is what makes them unique and stand out. Save the phrase "identity crisis" next time for bands like Orchid. And finally Brett Campbell's vocals. Seriously? Check your ear drums if possible. Because his wistful vocals bring perfection to "doom" metal. So, if you love doom metal, heavy metal in general or emotional heavy music you can relate to then cast aside these skeptics and get your copy of this masterpiece straightaway.

Rating - ★★★★1/2 (90% on Metal-Archives)