Album Review: Opeth – In Cauda Venenum [Extended Edition]
Reviewed by Paul Hutchings
When Opeth released ‘In Cauda Venenum’ in September 2019, it was something of a challenge. It grew on you as you spent more time with it, but as with most things that the Swedes deliver, the point is never instant gratification. It took many plays to appreciate the subtle twists and turns, the changes in dynamics and the creative direction that Mikael Akerfeldt was taking. The old school fans of the nineties continued their rage, whilst those of us comfortable to let Opeth traverse whatever trajectory they wished absorbed each track.
Move forward a couple of years, and Opeth are back in the touring cycle once more. A co-headline with Mastodon in the US appears, according to setlist.fm, to be relying heavily on music pre ‘Heritage’ with the tracks post 2011’s controversial release sitting in the heavier camp. So, releasing six unreleased songs from the ‘In Cauda Venenum’ sessions maybe a reminder to fans of where Opeth are musically, at least on record. Now, I say six songs, but in essence, like ‘In Cauda Venenum’, there are two versions of each track, sung in English and Swedish. You get three new songs for your money. Maybe not the best value for money in an album that many have already stumped up big chunks of cash for not that long ago. Call me cynical, but this appears a bit of an attempt to squeeze a bit more money from the fan base.
As with ‘In Cauda Venenum’, listening to the Swedish versions allows you to really explore the music. The three songs fit neatly in with’ In Cauda Venenum’. None of them are lengthy, certainly not by Opeth standards. 'The Mob' / 'Pöbeln' is the first track and begins with some melodious semi-acoustic guitar before vocals kick in. It’s a harmonious, complex, and strangely joyous song, with an uplifting feel. The keyboards are plentiful, underpinning some subtle and expansive guitar work, whilst the now departed Martin ‘Axe’ Axenrot is once more looked in a symbiotic relationship with Martin Mendez, the Uruguayan holding down the bottom end with effortless ease. It’s a delicious song, climbing high with dramatic flourishes, skipping along in a light tempo before coming to a halt.
If you use streaming sites, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the powerful riffs that drive 'Width of a Circle' / 'Cirkelns Riktning' forward. It’s a thunderous Opeth track, one that you can get the windmilling going full pelt, yet sing along as Akerfeldt’s vocals soar, ably supported by the backing vocals of Joakim Svalberg, whose keyboard work is just magnificent throughout the songs. There’s opportunity for a couple of blistering and traditional Opeth solos, which scream out from hiding midway through the song, lighting it up. Unsurprisingly, a deviation is inevitable, with the heat removed from the fire with a gentle interlude that slows the tempo, cleverly allowing it build once again before the band crash into a huge finish.
'Freedom & Tyranny' / 'Frihet & Tyranni’ begins with a beautiful, composed piece of keyboard play that is enhanced by strings before moving into another measured and calm passage. The musicianship is as stunning as ever, the combination of instruments providing some fabulous hooks. It may be laid back in mood, but it is dark and heavy, always brooding and potentially ready to explode. Akerfeldt’s clean vocals are now at a level where growls are no longer necessary (although the US dates suggest otherwise). 'Freedom & Tyranny' / 'Frihet & Tyranni’ is probably the most progressive of the three songs. It weaves carefully, and never quite hits the heights of the other two tracks.
For me, as a long-time fan of the band, this is a double-edged sword. The release of new material is at least something to tide us over and yet one can’t help feeling a little cheated. The music is brilliant, and the band’s performance stunning. But another release of an album of which I already own several copies feels a bit underwhelming.