For some rock stars at a certain point in their career, ‘luxury’ means material goods: a country pile with a wine cellar; an extravagant collection of John Varvatos jackets; a silly car, or three… Then there are those who channel this sense of opulence (and hard-earned stripes) into their music.
On In Cauda Venenum (Latin for ‘poison in the tail’), Opeth fall comfortably into this category. One of Sweden’s most widely recognised rock exports, in 20 years they’ve transmogrified from growling metal youths (e.g. 1995’s Orchid), to progressive metal adults (2001’s Blackwater Park) to 21st-century prog monarchs (everything from 2011’s Heritage onwards).
Armed with an orchestral arsenal of chunky rock guitars, acoustic guitars, strings, majestic harmonies, keyboards and more, they’ve made their bed here and are enjoying lying in it.
Not that this is mere comfort-zone indulgence. For starters, In Cauda Venenum is their first album sung in Swedish (there’s a replica version in English; the Swedish version is the “official” one). And it’s a testament to the allure of Mikael Åkerfeldt’s singing that the emotional impact isn’t lessened when you don’t understand what he’s saying.
Haunting, almost baroque vocal blasts and layers in the likes of Svekets Prins (Dignity) transcend language. Minnets Yta (Lovelorn Crime) is a sublime ballad, propelled by some stunning guitar soloing.
Lead guitarist Fredrik Akesson could eat most shredders for breakfast, but it’s in the searing, simpler passages peppering this record that really show what a great player he is.
You’ll find progressive rock in the engaging vein of solo Steven Wilson in the likes of Charlatan – good ’n’ rocky but jazzier, like a Tarkozsky film soundtrack interpreted at a rock/metal festival.
There’s even a whiff of latter-day Ghost in the guitar-chugging, straightforward likes of Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör (Heart In Hand). And despite some rollicking geekoid excess, it ultimately prizes melodic emotional heft over the ears-bleeding black metal they once sought. Often exorbitant, yes, but human too.
If you’re vehemently anti-prog – if the mere suggestion of organs and convoluted time signatures brings you out in hives – then you probably won’t like this album. Not that Åkerfeldt and co. will care. At this point they’re not concerned with world domination, but with making the very best version of the music they like right now.
So if you do like a bit of in-depth rock luxury in your life, In Cauda Venenum delivers by the caseload.