January 7, 2012

Playlist Week of 1-07-11

Opeth - Heritage

* Gesualdo: Tenebrae (Hilliard Ensemble) (ECM 2CD)
* J.S. Bach: Motets (Bach Collegium Japan/Suzuki) (BIS SACD)
* Bobby Hutcherson: Waiting (Blue Note LP)
* Jackie McLean: Destination Out! (Blue Note LP)
* Grachan Moncur III: Some Other Stuff (Blue Note LP)
* Sun Ra: Cosmos (Cobra/Spalax CD)
* Sun Ra: Chateauvallon, France 8-24-76 (AUD 2CDR)
* Charlie Haden Quartet West: The Art Of The Song (Verve CD)
* Pat Metheny/Dave Holland/Roy Haynes: Berlin Jazzfest 11-02-90 (FM 2CDR)
* The Thirteenth Assembly: (un)sentimental (Important CD)
* The Thirteenth Assembly: Station Direct (Important CD)
* Johnny Mathis: Open Fire, Two Guitars (Columbia/Legacy CD)
* Grateful Dead: Anthem Of The Sun (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Grateful Dead: Aoxomoxoa (selections) (Warner Bros./Rhino CD)
* Van Morrison: Astral Weeks (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Van Morrison: Moondance (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Joni Mitchell: Wild Things Run Fast (Geffen LP)
* Tom Waits: Bad As Me (Anti- LP)
* Santana: Caravanserai (Columbia/Mobile Fidelity SACD)
* Pink Floyd: Meddle (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* Pink Floyd: Obscured By Clouds (Pinkfloyd/EMI CD)
* King Crimson: Park West, Chicago, IL August 7, 2008 (DGM FLAC>2CDR)
* Genesis: Nursery Cryme (Charisma LP)
* Genesis: Foxtrot (Charisma LP)
* Guided By Voices: Let’s Go Eat The Factory (GBV, Inc. LP)
* Uncle Tupelo: Anodyne (Sire/Rhino LP)
* Porcupine Tree: In Absentia (Lava/Atlantic CD)(†)(‡)
* Porcupine Tree: Deadwing (Lava/Atlantic CD)†(‡)
* Porcupine Tree: Fear Of A Blank Planet (Atlantic CD)
* Porcupine Tree: The Incident (Roadrunner 2CD)(†)
* Steven Wilson: Grace For Drowning (KScope 2CD)(†)
* Opeth: Orchid (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Morningrise (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: My Arms, Your Hearse (Candlelight CD)†
* Opeth: Still Life (Peaceville/Icarus CD)(†)
* Opeth: Blackwater Park (Music For Nations/Koch CD)(†)
* Opeth: Deliverance (Music For Nations/Koch CD)†
* Opeth: Damnation (Music For Nations/Koch CD)
* Opeth: Ghost Reveries (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Watershed (Roadrunner CD)
* Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner CD+DVD/2LP)
* Opeth: Newport Music Hall, Columbus, OH 9-26-11 (AUD 2CDR)
* Mastodon: Crack The Skye (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise 2-45RPM LP)
* Baroness: The Red Album (Relapse CD)†



As you can see, my prog/metal obsession continues unabated. After reading my recent post about Mastodon, a friend suggested I check out the Swedish band, Opeth, whose new record, Heritage, has created controversy amongst fans for its abandonment of “death growl” vocals and a full-on adoption of a prog-rock sound, complete with antique Rhodes pianos and Mellotrons. Well, that sounded pretty good to me! I picked it up and enjoyed it quite a bit, but it was not nearly as heavy as I expected. Sounding more like ‘70s-era King Crimson than Megadeth, I could understand why fans of this (formerly?) extreme metal band would be disappointed. Intrigued, I decided to work my way backwards and listen to their previous record, 2008’s Watershed. With that, it started to make a bit more sense. Watershed is plenty heavy, believe me, but with plenty of proggy influences. And while I still find the guttural growling unintentionally hilarious, I am slowly starting to get used to it. In fact, I find Mikael Åkerfeldt’s voice is startlingly expressive, in its own peculiar way. The more I listen, the more I like it. By now, I have to admit: I’ve fallen in love with this band.

As you can see, I have listened to all ten of Opeth’s albums (or “observations” as Åkerfeldt calls them) in the past week (as well as an audience recording from their recent tour) and I am completely blown away by their breadth of vision and sheer musicality. For such a narrowly defined genre (at least in the popular imagination), Opeth makes putative “heavy metal” music that is all-encompassing: hard and soft, from gentle folk tunes to abrasive noise, from graceful fingerpicking to head-banging riffs, with wildly imaginative compositional structures and jazz-inflected rhythms—all within one (usually very long) song. This is seriously sophisticated music: eschewing the usual verse-chorus-bridge structure, Opeth creates epic constructions of contrasting passagework and intricately modulating meters, not so much “songs” as “suites” of a sort—an approach right out of the prog-rock playbook. Accordingly, it should come to no surprise to anyone familiar with the band’s history that they would one day make a record like Heritage. Heck, there were "clean" vocals, acoustic guitars and piano (!) on their very first album, 1995’s Orchid, where, remarkably enough, their ambitions barely outstrip their inchoate abilities. The truth is, Opeth has not made a bad record in its entire twenty-plus year career, an extraordinary achievement in this day and age. So, why had I never heard of them? Because they exist in the heavy metal ghetto, where most folks fear to tread.

Which brings us back to Heritage. Much has been made of the lack of growling on this record (and on the subsequent tour), leading to accusations of “sell-out” amongst death-metal purists. Like I said, I personally find the “Cookie Monster” vocals utterly ridiculous while conceding that Åkerfeldt has a surprisingly eloquent grunt—but, let’s face it, nobody can do that to their throat for twenty years without losing their voice altogether. Let’s give the guy a break! 2003’s Damnation, a record which also featured exclusively “clean” vocals is widely seen to be a masterpiece (and I agree)—so, why the hate? Frankly, I think it has to do with the keyboards. Heavy metal is predominately guitar music: an electric guitar wielded like a magic wand, like a pulsating phallus. Keyboards – especially synthesizers—are seen as signs of weakness, a sell-out. Almost by definition, synthesizers do not rock. While the presence of keyboards is almost subliminal on Damnation, they are exceedingly prominent on Heritage—heck, it sounds like Weather Report at times. That’s fine with me, but hardcore metal-heads are justifiably upset. Let’s just call it what it is: art rock. In an era of “American Idol” pop-glop homogeneity and fractured sub-underground scenes, I don’t see that as a particularly lucrative career move. But then again, any attempt to escape the heavy metal ghetto is seen as a “sell-out” to adherents. Well, whatever. I’m sold. So, what next?

Åkerfeldt has recorded an album under the moniker Storm Corrosion with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson, who has worked with Opeth on and off ever since 2001’s Blackwater Park (and whose sonic fingerprints are all over Heritage). The self-titled album is due out in April and it is supposed to be even proggier than Heritage—complete with strings and horns. Can’t wait! Opeth is currently on an extensive world tour and I sure wish I had known about them back in September when they played the Cannery Ballroom on the 28th. Oh well, maybe next time. Thanks to the Internet, I’ve been able to audition a decent-sounding audience tape from a couple nights before and—wow!—they are as impressive live as on record. Åkerfeldt is not only fine singer/songwriter and fluent guitarist; he’s a charming and surprisingly humorous front-man…a little like a modern day Zappa. Oh dear, I think I’m falling in love. Thankfully, my wife thinks Opeth is pretty great, too, so it’s all good. See for yourself with this tantalizing excerpt of “Nepenthe” from the new album, recorded live at Nyhestmorgon, TV4 Sweden on September 13, 2011:

1 comment:

Sam said...

That's one of the things I like about you, Rodger--you always go in deep! Its gonna take me years to catch up. Oh, well, lots of fun ahead!

In the meanwhile, here's my lists from last week:

Playlist 2012-01-09:

*Morton Feldman: Morton Feldman Festival 2008-02-09 Amsterdam Part 3 (CDR) disc 2
*Mozart: The Complete String Quintets (The Nash Ensemble) disc 3
*Ravi Shankar: Live: Ravi Shankar at the Monterey International Pop Festival
*Miles Davis Quintet: 1967-04-07 Berkeley, CA (CDR)
*Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live
*Duke Ellington: Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club (disc 2)
*Andrew Hill: The Complete Blue Note Andrew Hill Sessions (1963-66) discs 5, 7
*Don Pullen feat. Sam Rivers: Capricorn Rising
*Beach Boys: Good Vibrations box set (disc 4)
*Beach Boys: The Smile Sessions (discs 1-5)
*Boston Spaceships: Brown Submarine
*Boston Spaceships: Zero to 99
*Al Bowlly: Just a Bowl of Cherries
*Grateful Dead: 1969-11-02 San Francisco (CDR) "Dark Star"
*Grateful Dead: 1970-02-13 Fillmore East "Dark Star" (CDR)
*Grateful Dead: 1970-09-19 Fillmore East "Dark Star" (CDR)
*Grateful Dead: Europe '72 Vol. 2
*Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today
*Robert Pollard: Robert Pollard Is Off to Business
*Robert Pollard: We All Got Out of the Army
*Robert Pollard: Moses on a Snail
*Robert Pollard: Space City Kicks
*Prince: The Dawn (boot CDR) disc 3
*Prince: High

Reading List 2012-01-09:

*Card, Orson Scott. Ender's Game (started)
*Marlow, Christopher. Dr. Faustus (reread/started/finished)
*Bride of Dark and Stormy, compiled by Scott Rice (finished)
*Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights (transl. Malcolm C. Lyons) Vol. 2 (in progress)
*Bradbury, Ray: Bradbury Stories (in progress)