Opeth – In Cauda Venenum: Album Review

Release Date: 27th September 2019

Label: Nuclear Blast / Moderbolaget

Format: CD / LP / DD / Cassette / Boxed Set / DSP

Can Opeth do anything wrong? I imagine every single Opeth fan has their opinion on an answer to that question depending on your outlook on their shift in styles over the years. Their rights or wrongs can be debated based on your preferences of style, but what you cannot question is Opeth’s intrepid ability to keep the great albums coming.

In Cauda Venenum, meaning ‘Poison In The Tail.’ is the band’s thirteenth album and simply put; it’s stunning. From the opening atmospheric gambit to the euphoric closing fade out, this album sees Opeth sail further towards the prog masters flag that they set course for wholeheartedly on Heritage, nearly a decade ago.

Like any truly great album, In Cauda Venenum takes time to manifest itself in your mind. Each listen reveals a new layer of sound that you can focus your appreciation on.

The John Carpenter style opener, Garden Of Earthly Delights, sets the tone for the album superbly. A revolving synth loop swirls as little soundbites from the scene depicted on the albums excellent cover art, from Travis Smith, play out. The nuanced sounds signal just how important it is to fully immerse yourself in this record; the chatter, the chiming bell, the whistles, the hustle and bustle…it all helps transport you to the world of Opeth.

Dignity crashes in in a furore of exultant voices and guitars before settling into a passage of music that feels very much like an overture. Imagine those classic films where the credits roll at the start and mention every person involved in the film; that is the image that the opening conjures. The styles alternate to showcase what is to come.

Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals begin in a pitch higher than we’re traditionally used to hearing from him. The serenity of the early vocal strains are replaced with controlled and straining vocals that you can envisage the Swedish maestro putting every ounce of his being into in the studio.

One of the lead singles, Heart In Hand throws up one of the heaviest compositions Opeth have put together in recent years. The guitars are devilishly dark and chug urgently throughout. The solo that punctuates the two halves of the song is fierce. It’s one moment, in an album full of memorable moments, where it’s hard not to have a huge grin plastered across your face. Next Of Kin also contains some supremely measured solo work that evokes the precision of Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden) in its control and delivery.

Next Of Kin also offers one of many orchestral flourishes that add such wonderful dexterity to the mix. Universal Truth also sees the orchestral aspects of the band come to the fore, probably in far grander scale than Next Of Kin.

Lovelorn Crime is another of those grandiose moments that Opeth has created. A meandering and tender pace is at the centre of the song, with more orthodox time signatures and standard song formation glueing the track together. Another celebratory solo tops the song off. There is a sense of ‘End of Act 1’ at the end of Lovelorn Crime as the album hits the centre point.

Any orthodoxy is thrown out of the window with The Charlatan. A range of tempos and times along with great keyboard work from Joakim Svalberg start off the second half of the album in a wickedly dark fashion. Martin Axenrot compliments that keyboards on drums with a replication of the melody in tempo. The cohesion is sublime. Åkerfeldt’s vocals again soar proving once again that he is one of the great singers of our time.

Mr. Åkerfeldt rightly gets lauded for the path he has trodden with and for Opeth, but the supporting cast is, as touched upon, equally phenomenal. There are times when you listen to In Cauda Venenum and pick out different instruments amongst the superbly produced album. Hell, you could take a listen to focus on each members contribution individually such is the exploration that can take place here.

The Garroter is one of the greatest tracks on In Cauda Venenum. The drumming of Axenrot and the bass Martín Méndez come together to bring forth the jazz influences amongst the ranks of the Swedes. Brush like drumming swings, loose and well-constructed bass lines groove and great jazz style guitar make yet another Opeth moment. A vocal melody that again replicates the main melody play alongside each other reminiscent of Wish You Were Here. Is this goth-jazz? Maybe.

Almost whispered vocals help open up Continuum alongside deep organs and more complex drumming structures. After the jazz of The Garroter, more crushing guitars return to remind you that Opeth is, at their core, a heavy metal band. Again, the guitar solo is ferocious. Fredrik Åkesson and Åkerfeldt are up there with Tipton/Downing, Hanneman/King and Murray/Smith as one of the best guitar duos ever. The juxtaposition of styles keeps the album extremely interesting across its 68-minute duration. This is a record is a gift that keeps giving on every front.

All Things Must Pass fades out to close the album as In Cauda Venenum swishes elegantly into the sunset. Each member of this amazing band plays their respected instruments with aplomb as each of them is at the fore of the mix.

Throughout the album, there are little vocal samples, seemingly from the characters contained herein, church choirs and medieval moods for eternity.

Not satisfied with producing one of the best albums of their career, Opeth has also recorded the album entirely in Swedish so you have the option of English or native tongue. Each version is worth treating as two albums. Just let the versions infiltrate your mind and listen to this classic LP, unfurl. You will not be disappointed.

Far removed from their heavier days, Opeth are musical wizards. Each record they release is an event and one that sparks debate amongst their vast legions of fans.

So, can Opeth do anything wrong? I say no, but I imagine the online metal community would say yes. In Cauda Venenum is a magnificent spectacle of an album and one that should be lauded as such. Heaviness is so much more than deathly growls, blast beats and dense guitars. This is a modern masterpiece full of sumptuous moments that you never want to end.

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