Opeth: ‘In Cauda Venenum’ Review

It’s been three years since Opeth released ‘Sorceress’ which received a mixed reception from their fanbase. “Mikael! You need to growl again” the fans screamed into deaf ears. Mikael Åkerfeldt (Lead singer and creative driving force behind Opeth) has stated in a recent interview he sees these comments as compliments to his earlier work, but doesn’t want to return to return to growling any time soon.

I think this is excellent news, as I’ve really enjoyed the new creative direction that Opeth has taken. ‘Pale Communion’ and ‘Heritage’ were incredibly enjoyable for me, especially as someone who has similar influences to Mikael. ELP, Yes, Genesis, Caravan, all wonderful bands that have done their part in influencing the next wave of musicians in the prog world.

This album is also slightly different from previous releases as it’s been written as a double record. One side with the lyrics in English, the other side Swedish. For those that don’t know, Opeth are from Sweden. I’m not great picking lyrics out of a track at the best of times, so listening to the record in Swedish and English has thrown me off. I don’t hear a huge difference between the two sides in terms of the musicality of the vocals, but I’m sure that Swedish speaking people who take lyrics far more seriously than I do will be over the moon at this version of the record.

For the purposes of this review, I’ll be referring to the tracks as their English titled counterparts.

The record starts with a mellow introduction from ‘Garden of Deathly Preludes’, with echos of bell chimes that sound like they were sampled from Big Ben in London. On many albums from ‘My Arms, Your Hearse’ to ‘Sorceress’, Opeth do love a good introduction track on occasion before leading into the meat of the record.

Now firmly introduced to the sound from the intro track, ‘Dignity’ starts with a choral explosion. The instrumentals in this section remind me of Opeth’s previous record ‘Sorceress’. It brings an instantly familiar instrumentation and compositional style which whisks us away back into another one of Opeth’s works of art. As the piece progresses, we shift into a mellower acoustic section reminiscent of ‘Blackwater Park’.

One of my favourite parts of any Opeth record is the journey that you get taken on. Mikael has perfected the art of textual balance to convey different emotions throughout an album. ‘In Cauda Venenum’ is absolutely no different. I like to think the listener is pushed and pulled into different sections and directions of the music without any real warning.

‘Heart in Hand’ was the first single released in the lead-up to the full album launch. It’s packed full with hooks and riffs that perfectly slice into one another. A very signatory style of the band that we’ve seen in the post ‘Watershed’ era. An incredible polyrhythm starts off the track which I really struggled to work out the time signature for. It’s as if two sides of the band wrote different intros to the song, and bled them in top of each other. But, it works incredibly well.

‘Next of Kin’ opens with excellent heavy riffing. There’s also a wonderfully angelic guitar solo that blends back into the chorus later in the track at 4:43. This is such a wonderful moment of the record, and really stands out as an exceptional example of songwriting. The string section is also used much more in the forefront on this track, particularly in the outro section. It’s not necessarily something you see as much in this genre to an entire orchestral string section leading the melody, but it something I’d love to hear more of as a classically trained musician myself.

‘Lovelorn Crime’ follows with the first proper ballad style track on the record. There are some wonderfully soft and raw moments throughout that create a very moving atmosphere for us as listeners to delve into. Fredrik Åkesson’s solo is full to the brim of vibrato based expression, with the bends almost mimicking Mikael’s vocal lines at the peak of the melodic lines.

‘In Cauda Veneum’ was written with the same lineup as the previous three Opeth releases. ‘Heritage’, ‘Pale Communion’, and ‘Sorceress’. After a couple of lineup changes over the years, the band have really settled into a tight-knit unit after the change in creative direction followed ‘Watershed’.

Moving on to ‘Charlatan’, the piece starts with a simple guitar line before building up to a heavy keyboard section which particularly showcases the Hammond Organ used on the album. The muffled bass tones give a much darker feel to this track than others on the record.

‘The Garroter’ throws in some brushed snare which brings back the jazzy feel found earlier in the album. The chorus has some wonderful chord progressions coming from the keys. I also want to mention the ‘mouth trumpet’ solo at the end of the piece which I want to call the “do be do” section of the album. It’s bizarre, but it works well, and is what progressive music is all about.

The Swedish and English version of the CD

Then, ‘Continuum’ features a clarinet solo which leads into one of the biggest guitar moments on the record which made me close my eyes and melt into my chair from awe.

The finale of the album, ‘All Things Will Pass’, is a wonderful climax track that I’d compare to ‘The Grand Conjuration’ from ‘Ghost Reveries’. I was really disappointed when ‘Sorceress’ had a very uncoordinated album ending, and didn’t really have a well written finale moment. This time around, Opeth have gone above and beyond in creating this.

I could go on and on about this album. I’ve been a huge fan of Opeth for many years now, and this record really caught me off guard. I feel like I’m taken to an enchanted forest full of mythical creatures on a cold winter’s night; which sounds like an excellent way to spend my winter, further indulging myself into the record.

Overall, I think the album is really well paced and structured, packed full of emotion. For me, it takes the cake as the best post ‘Watershed’ album for me. It went beyond my expectations from what I was expecting after ‘Sorceress’, and I can’t wait to absorb this music in a live setting. 10/10.

Order the record, and check out upcoming tour dates on the official Opeth website here.

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