Another gem in their string of masterpieces

Opeth’s last studio album was one of those rare releases to score 100% on this website. In hindsight, were it to be reviewed again, it probably wouldn’t score quite as highly.

There’s a few reasons for that, but the most significant reason for our purposes here is because it pales – pales – next to this new album. In Cauda Venenum is heavier, darker and more elaborate and expansive than Opeth have been since Watershed. Where Sorceress pulled on more of the psychedelic 70s veneer the albums before it had played with, In Cauda Venenum strips all of that away in favour of the metal of old, with added orchestration and flourishes of jazz and the NWOBHM that so influenced Swedish metal in the early 1990s. The string section adds an extra dimension of epic to Opeth’s already giant sound, sometimes the heaviest they’ve been in over a decade, at other times perhaps the most gentle.

While the album delivers plenty of what one expects and hopes from Opeth, In Cauda Venenum piles on the surprises, from Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocal delivery to the soloing and riffs to the formidable rhythm section pairing of Martin Mendez and Martin Axelrod steering a steady course through the band’s epic arrangements. “Dignity” rises from the lush, moody Floyd-like intro like a storm, subsiding only to build again into the classic thundering metal riffing of “Heart in Hand” and the gates open onto a vast landscape of musical textures and sounds. “Continuum” features an immense bluesy doom riff and on “The Garroter” the band explore jazz tones,  Åkerfeldt scatting over a glorious guitar solo. Both guitarists offer some cataclysmic soloing across the album, and Åkerfeldt adds quiet falsettos to an at times quite haunting vocal performance on the most inventive and diverse Opeth release for more than a decade.

The Opeth creative engine fires on all cylinders through every twist and turn, from the sweeping orchestral movements to the darkly emotional quiet passages that flare into raging metal riffs and driving rhythms. Then, just as the vast and rich tapestry that is In Cauda Venenum seems to be meandering a little too far, the enormous doom of “Continuum” rumbles in to carry the album to its climax, the titular sting in the tail. “All Things Must Pass” is the prolonged ending to an epic album, a deceptive bait-and-switch of beauty and malevolence that could well be the finest closing chapter to any Opeth album.

It is a fitting piece, an opulent finale to the band’s most accomplished release since the end of their death metal period. In Cauda Venenum is essential Opeth, another gem in a string of masterpieces that few other bands have matched.

  1. Garden of Earthly Delights
  2. Dignity
  3. Heart in Hand
  4. Next of Kin
  5. Lovelorn Crime
  6. Charlatan
  7. Universal Truth
  8. The Garroter
  9. Continuum
  10. All Things Will Pass