Reviewed: July 2022
Released: 2022, Atomic Fire Records
Reviewer: Lee Carter
For all that has been said about OPETH’s departure from their traditional death metal sound since 2008’s ‘Watershed’, they have remained steadfast in their pursuit of musical excellence. They may not be as crushingly heavy as in the days of ‘Blackwater Park’ et al., but their ability to craft progressive music that paints rich tapestries remains, and this was very much apparent on their recent celebrated release, ‘In Cauda Venenum’. This was an album where their worship of the sounds of 70s progressive rock coalesced with heavy emotional weight, and cemented their status as certified masters of their art.
As with bands and artists up and down the musical spectrum, there will always be additional cuts from an album that were left on the cutting room floor, which is the subject of today’s review. The bonus disc of 2019’s ‘In Cauda Venenum’ comes in the form of three new songs, offered here, as the original release of the album was, in both English and Swedish. If any of you were hoping that these would be experiments in the band’s previous sound, then your hearts will be left wanting, as this is still the OPETH sound of the 2010s and beyond: progressive rock, multi-layered vocals and outstanding musicianship. Rather than offer another take on the band’s 2019 effort, the below is dedicated solely to the trio of new songs. So without further ado…
First up is “The Mob/Pöbeln”, a resplendent acoustic-led piece that showcases Mikael Åkerfeldt’s soaring vocal ability and knack for a vocal melody. Not to mention those layers of vocals that stack-up delightfully well to offer a rich, opulent experience that only OPETH can offer. Following on from this is the previously-released single, “Width Of A Circle/Cirkelns Riktning”, which will have those yearning for the band’s yesteryears devouring this tiniest of morsels for their heavier past. A chugging verse riff meets an impassioned vocal performance from Åkerfeldt before descending into OPETH’s folkiest side with delicate acoustic arpeggios, harmonised vocals and gentle piano, only to rise again for a thrilling rockier finale.
Yet this extended edition’s highlight has to be this disc’s third and final track, “Freedom & Tyranny/Frihet & Tyranni”. Turn away if you’re still crying yourself to sleep clutching your copy of ‘Still Life’, but the intro to this one is pure 70s prog. Gorgeous strings meet simple strummed acoustics and a classic Hammond whirring away – you’ll feel right at home if you love your prog. Yet for all its 70s worship, it still sounds perfectly of this era, and none more so when the extremely tasteful guitar solo rips through the track’s final third. It is not often a slice of shred marries well to slower burning prog, but, goodness, does it work well here.
Of course, there is nothing musically different between the two versions of each track, however it does offer a chance to question whether their release in two different languages does anything for the song. Whether it is down to not being a native Swedish speaker, or simple appreciation for the material on offer here, but the language that each song is sung in has no bearing on the final outcome: the material is still OPETH gold. If anything, and at the risk of sounding a touch patronising (which is not the intention at all), there is a pleasant charm to behold Åkerfeldt singing in his native tongue – further releases as such would be very welcome.
With the original album clocking in at well over an hour already, it is somewhat understandable that OPETH felt the need to omit these from an already strong set of songs from the first release of ‘In Cauda Venenum’. At nearly fifteen minutes extra (half-an-hour if you are counting both language releases), these would make for a rather mammoth album. Where a bonus disc on a re-release will often feature songs that were not quite of the same quality as those that made the final cut, the ones here sound every bit as good as those on the original. If you loved ‘In Cauda Venenum’, then you’ll very much enjoy another bunch of songs for the album.
1. The Mob/Pöbeln
2. Width Of A Circle/Cirkelns Riktning
3. Freedom & Tyranny/Frihet & Tyranni
Mikael Åkerfeldt – Vocals & guitar
Fredrik Åkesson – Guitar & vocals
Joakim Svalberg – Keyboards & vocals
Martín Méndez – Bass
Martin “Axe” Axenrot – Drums & percussion