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Album Reviews : Opeth – In Cauda Venenum

By on November 11, 2019

Opeth released their thirteenth album In Cauda Venenum in September this year, in preparation for an extensive world tour. In Cauda Venenum continues in Opeth more recent style heavily influenced by 70s progressive rock (as opposed to their death metal origins) and represents a far more developed version of this style. It strikes an even balance between progressive rock and metal elements while retaining a distinct sense of ‘Opeth-ness’ in the harmony, songwriting and timbre. There is a sense of atmosphere and cohesion to this album, supported by the intermissions between various tracks and small spoken-word intercessions. Additionally, there are two versions of the album – one with English lyrics (which is the version I reviewed) and one with Swedish lyrics.

The album begins with a burst of atmosphere in the form of ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’, establishing a moody, sinister atmosphere that persists throughout and characterises the entire album with a sense of gravitas. The song builds extremely well and its atmosphere manages to be distinct for this album and still retain some inherent element of ‘Opeth-ness’. ‘Dignity’ develops the motifs of ‘Garden…’ well into a full progression that is much heavier than expected. This song feels like a mixture of Damnation and Watershed era Opeth and is well-written, developing quite well. ‘Heart on Hand’ provides a great bit of modal harmony to an otherwise standard opening riff. The musicianship on this track is excellent, with a particularly great performance from Martin Mendez [bass] and Martin Axenrot [drums] during the chorus. ‘Next of Kin’ begins with a nicely layered vocal opening that leads into a great main riff full of slow grooves. Akerfeldt’s vocals are the highlight of this track, displaying the full range of his clean vocals. The main theme is carried well on various instruments throughout the song, ensuring that there is a great deal of timbral variety to the track. The middle of the track features a gentle acoustic guitar section that mixes some more conventional prog harmonies with touches of blues bends, matching the vocals quite nicely.

‘Lovelorn Crime’ provides some contrast to the earlier half of the album, being the ballad of In Cauda Venenum. A well-written song, Akerfeldt’s haunting vocals are smoothly accompanied by the melancholy piano, while the whole song builds to the climax of Fredrik Akesson’s excellent guitar solo. ‘Charlatan’ has some great grooves and riffing throughout, proving a good change of pace from the preceding ballad but could perhaps benefit from some more variety. The sense of atmosphere is strong, but I feel I would have gotten more out of this track if I could have understood the radio voice-overs (which I assume are in Swedish). ‘Universal Truth’ is another very well-paced song and quite laid back. It provides a unique flavour through its mostly-major mode harmonies in the intro and verse as well as showcasing another excellent solo from Akesson and a fantastic acoustic outro. ‘The Garrotter’ is another album highlight, beginning with an intriguing Phrygian-tinged classical guitar solo that builds well into moody piano chords before giving way to a dark intro and some fantastic drumming from Axenrot. This is a great track, brooding, jazzy, and dark, that manages to really progress too far for most of its duration without becoming boring. ‘Continuum’ offers another change of pace with a very minimalistic opening that leads to an excellent chorus where Akerfeldt’s vocals are well complemented by the distorted guitar accompaniment. Like ‘The Garrotter’, ‘Continuum’ is a fairly straightforward song in terms of structure but is engaging and well written and leads seamlessly into the final track ‘All Things Shall Pass’. The final song does a great job of closing out the album, recalling the musical motifs and atmosphere of ‘Garden…’ before building up to a strong song in its own right.

In my opinion, In Cauda Venenum represents Opeth’s strongest release since Watershed, and it sounds particularly fresh for a band so far into their career. Opeth has done a remarkable job in preserving such a strong sense of atmosphere and identity across an album that presents such diverse songs. The songs themselves are of remarkably high quality throughout, rarely having any weak moments or losing cohesion. While fans of Opeth’s classic death metal era will likely always miss these elements, Opeth has demonstrated without a doubt that they are still capable of delivering some excellent progressive metal and that they can move beyond 70s prog-rock worship.

Band: Opeth
Album: In Cauda Venenum
Year: 2019
Genre: Progressive Metal
Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Origin: Sweden

About

Ben is a metalhead originally from Sydney, who has now moved to Hobart to pursue a PhD in Australian extreme metal. When not studying, writing about or playing metal, he can be found playing video games, browsing Reddit, knitting, fending off his cat or helping out at his local church.