Opeth mastermind Mikael Akerfeldt was once the proggy warlord of Swedish death metal. On epic LPs like 2005′s Ghost Reveries and 2008′s Watershed, he perfected a deceptively complicated sleight-of-hand — morphing from Satanic growls and detuned riffage to serene acoustic balladry, all in one song. But is Opeth even a metal band anymore? Akerfedlt has expressed his distaste for modern metal production in various interviews. On 2011′s Heritage, which functioned as a giant fuck-you to his most closed-minded fans, Akerfeldt emphasized his proggiest tendencies, abandoning black-hole distortion in favor of jazz-fusion doodling and brooding instrumental texture.
Pale Communion, the 11th Opeth album and the band’s finest in at least a decade, drifts even further from their demonic roots. “River” is a windows-down, major-key classic-rocker — perfectly suited for the second side of a Boston LP; “Elysian Woes” finds Akerfeldt crooning gloriously about “bearing his scars” over 12-strings and Mellotron; “Goblin” (inspired by the Italian ’70s prog band of the same name) is a wicked fusion-rock jam that sounds like Mahavishnu. But the album’s mightiest peak is also Opeth’s biggest stylistic departure: “Faith in Others,” a mournful closer built on twinkling guitar lines and (how dare they?) orchestrations. With its ballad-like falsetto crooning, it’s clearly the least “metal” song in the band’s catalog — in that light, it’s both a musical and moral victory.
Akerfeldt continues to push his band into the thrilling unknown, whether his fans like it or not.