In Caude Venenum makes the case for being the best Opeth album to date. 10/10
About 5 years ago I was at an Opeth gig and just happened to glance to the left of me. In the front row was a chap in his mid to late twenties (we will call him Brian) who by all accounts appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. But what I noticed most about Brian was that he was wearing a T Shirt upon which the words “Make Opeth Growl Again” ( or MOGA, if you will) were emblazoned. I have never been completely sure about the efficacy of Brian’s campaign slogan – I mean, the band are hardly likely to see Brian, realise the error of their ways and return to the growling days of yonder. Moreover, to paraphrase Steven Wilson, ‘A performer writes music for their fans. An artist writes music for himself’, and if ever a band wrote for themselves it is Opeth. I don’t mean to belittle Brian by the way, I still haven’t got over the betrayal that was Metallica’s Black album, so I am hardly one to judge.
Which brings me neatly to In Caude Venenum. A while ago, Mikael Åkerfeldt stated that he had lost interest in the ‘metal’ backdrop that had informed some of Opeth’s earlier work. Their last album, ‘Sorceress’ played homage to some of his biggest influences. In it I heard King Crimson, Porcupine Tree, Dio, Judas Priest and even a bit of Pink Floyd. In many cases, the influences were too much worn on the sleeve for my liking and it was difficult to tunnel past them to find ‘Opeth’. Not that it was a bad album (after all, there are no bad Opeth albums), just that to me, it played like a tribute to the 70’s.
In Caude Venenum (I think the most literal translation is ‘Sting in the Tail), makes a strong case for being the best post MOGA album, and possibly the best Opeth album to date, a hefty achievement 13 albums in. A quick word on ‘translation’. Opeth originally composed this album in their native Swedish and then translated it and re-recorded it. As an English speaker I am reviewing the English version, but having listened to both it seems clear that they found the process an engaging and exhilarating one. It is not a quick listen either, clocking in at nearly 70 mins.
After the musical intro that is ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, ‘Dignity’ starts the album off remarkably. Mixing organ and guitar before segueing into classic mellow Åkerfelt and then returning into the riff driven Opeth of the past – the track couldn’t be more Opeth if it tried. ‘Heart in Hand’ continues in the vein mixing hard and mellow in equal measure. A riff reminiscent of ‘The Immigrant Song’ starts off proceedings before continuing on to the frenetic guitar work and sweeping chorus work that encapsulate Opeth. So far so good, and it is possible that you have already heard these two songs as they have been prereleased and are wondering if the rest of the album stands up. The good news is that it does. ‘Next of Kin’ mixes grandeur, melody and melancholy perfectly accompanied by the most emotive steel guitar and slide work imaginable. ‘Lovelorn Crime‘ is a piano-led string filled ballad which is just perfect – a showcase for the vocal tenderness that Åkerfeldt is capable of. It is a quick respite before the intense and hyperactive return of organ and guitar and even a Benedictine choir in ‘Charlatan’.
‘Universal Truth’ is a highlight. Epic in scale, it contains more musical ideas in one song than most bands do in an album. It soars. It crashes. It segues from heavy metal riff to classical guitar seamlessly, with Åkerfeldt plaintively telling us “Time won’t heal any wounds you bear….” It has strings. It has harmony. It might well be the most Opeth song ever written. It is astounding.
‘The Garroter’ is a song about a hunter predicated on a jazz piano backing with plenty of brush drum work and bass work. There is jazz flute and swing guitar. This is clearly Opeth doing what they like and having fun and is a welcome change of pace before ‘Continuum’ and a more recognisable Opeth – quiet melody that lulls you into soporific heaven before you are brutally awoken by the blunt force of wah guitar solos, heavy choruses and interspersed polyphony that attach to your musical soul with a vice like grip and refuse to leave demanding your full emotional attention.
And so to ‘All Things Will Pass’, a strong contender for one of the greatest ever endings of an Opeth album. The joyous lead guitar outro will still be in your head hours afterwards, but like every song on this album there is no rush to get there and a belief that every note, every sound, every instrument and every vocal and musical flourish deserves its place and will not be sullied by having to rush to its destination.
All the playing is as you would expect from an Opeth album. Åkerfeldt‘s and Fredrik Åkesson’s guitar work is intense and exhilarating. Martin Mendez on bass and Martin Axenrot on drums are intricate and provide the glue and Joakim Svalberg on keyboards and piano might well be the busiest he has been on any Opeth album. They are all outstanding – but then you already knew that.
In a year that has included a release by Devin Townsend this is my album of the year. I am not sure of the last time I was able to use that sentence.
One further note, there is no growling. Brian is gonna be pissed… 10/10