"Pale Communion," though, is a different story. The meandering fusion-inspired passages of "Heritage" have been trimmed down, and the end product is much closer to their metal days. "Moon Above, Sun Below," with its heavy, distinctly Opeth-ian riffage and harmonized acoustic interludes, could have easily fit on "Deliverance" or "Watershed." Similarly, the driving, Middle Eastern-tinged lead riff in "Cusp of Eternity" echoes back to "Atonement" on "Ghost Reveries." Mikael Akerfeldt and co. are clearly more confident in their songwriting abilities, whereas on "Heritage" it seemed as if they were approaching the writing process with an explicit desire not to make a metal album. And though "Pale Communion" is anything but a metal album, which makes it all the more unique in Opeth's catalog.
This album has something for every Opeth fan. Yes, there are obvious nods to their metal past, a fact much appreciated by old school fans such as myself. However, with songs like the Damnation-esque "Elysian Woes" and "River," Opeth are yet again charting new territory while still retaining the distinct melacholic sound that's defined them throughout their career. "Voice of Treason" and "Faith in Others" are some of my favorite tracks on this album. They both feature string sections that are employed so skillfully that one could hardly imagine the songs without them. "Faith in Others" has a particularly cinematic and even cathartic quality about it that makes it not only Opeth's best closing song, but also some of their most intensely depressing (in a good way) lyrics.
"Pale Communion" is Opeth at their most honest and emotional, unwilling to care what the press or even their fans expect of them. This is a gorgeous story of loss and betrayal that pays homage to the greats of 70's prog rock with the kind of authenticity and focus that "Heritage" sometimes lacked. It may be difficult for a lot of fans to look beyond Opeth as a metal band, but with this album it's clear that they're more than capable of branching out into different directions and redefining their identity, even at such a late stage in the game. I know of no other band who has changed styles so drastically, yet retained the high quality of their music. Where Opeth goes next is anyone's guess.