Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Om man slutar tänka, då blir man död.
True story, but there’s Still Life in Opeth! Spoken by a child, those lines (meaning “If you stop thinking, then you’re dead”) opens the thirteenth studio album by the progressive rock/metal institution that Mikael Åkerfeldt has now led for thirty years. He sure hasn’t stopped thinking yet.
I first got into Opeth through their fourth album and “Still Life” probably remains my favourite album in their discography. I can hardly believe that it’s now 20 years old. Time flies, as Åkerfeldt’s friend Steven Wilson used to say in that old Porcupine Tree song. Back around the year 2000 I also got heavily into “Morningrise” and “Blackwater Park”, a brilliant release named after the German band who released “Dirt Box” back in 1972. Steven Wilson was also involved in producing the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” album pair but my interest in the band sadly started to lessen after that. “Ghost Reveries” was good, certainly, but I’ve rarely felt a need to revisit it. Starting with “Heritage”, Åkerfeldt then took a sharper turn towards his love for obscure 70’s rock music. Despite the fact that I share his passion for collecting psychedelic, folk, heavy and progressive rock, I must confess that I’ve actually yet to get around to buying “Pale Communion” or “Sorceress”.
Anyway, “In Cauda Venenum” is latin for “Poison in the Tail” (of Scorpions, possibly also a reference to one of Åkerfeldt’s favorite German bands?), referring to an unpleasant surprise in the end. This album is certainly not unpleasant, and it’s hopefully far from the end for Opeth. The special edition of “Watershed” (one of Opeth’s very best releases, as far as I’m concerned) included a cover of “Den ständiga resan”, originally by Roxette vocalist Marie Fredriksson. “In Cauda Venenum”, however, is the first time that Opeth has recorded an entire album of original material with vocals all in Swedish. It was originally to be released only as such but Åkerfeldt eventually decided to re-record and release it in an English version as well. Both versions of the album are filled with spoken samples in Swedish, though, including snippets from the excellent children’s TV series “Skrotnisse och hans vänner” (first aired in 1985) and Olof Palme, the Swedish prime minister from 1969 to 1976 and from 1982 until his assassination in 1986. I’ve listened to both versions but as Swedish is my native tongue, I must admit that I prefer that one and probably won’t return to the English version any time soon. In this review I will also refer to the tracks using only the Swedish titles.
“Svekets prins” and “Hjärtat vet vad handen gör” were both released as digital singles before the album release and it is easy to see why. These open the album proper in amazing fashion, the latter especially being arguably one of the best tracks Opeth has ever made!
Intolerans förklädd till en dygd. I hemlighet är empatin hat.
Självkritik på nätet blev tryggt. En tron för en modern psykopat.
“De närmast sörjande” is less immediate but packs a considerable emotional punch (“Algoritmens sällskap tröstar och dottern ringer sällan nu. Hur beskriver man ett liv utan mål? Maskinens toner överröstas när döden ger sin intervju”) and has a beautiful orchestral ending. “Minnets yta” starts off as a piano ballad and Opeth’s death metal roots are far, far away when Åkerfeldt bares his vulnerability with the line “Du har inte alltid rätt, du tror alltid ont om mig“. Beautifully sad stuff!
“Charlatan” is nothing short of a prog metal masterpiece of the kind that Opeth does best. The samples dealing with religion makes the track even stronger. In one sample a child is heard saying that there ain’t only one God but rather thirty million and hundreds of thousands, one in each country. An adult then asks her if the Gods can speak to each other. “No” is the chilling answer.
“Ingen sanning är allas” is another slow and orchestral ballad with folky acoustic guitars, somewhat comparable to “Minnets yta”. It eventually takes a turn towards the heavy and progressive but ultimately fails to engage me quite as much as the rest of the album. Åkerfeldt reaches for his highest vocal notes towards the end but not before delivering a strong performance of the lines “Tiden läker inga sår, ett antal år av ditt liv är stulna” and “En röst bor i ditt bröst som värnar om din ro, men älven är för bred för lugnet att slå bro“. Beautiful!
“Banemannen” is one of my favorite tracks on the album, folky and jazzy in a way that makes me think of British folk rock giants Pentangle and Comus. The lyrics deal with dark subjects such as domestic abuse and murder (not unlike the latter’s “First Utterance”, the legendary 1971 album from which Opeth previously lifted the album title “My Arms, Your Hearse”), but also makes allusions to recent events in Swedish politics. “En dold agenda syns klart i folkets ledare. En redan skev åsikt blev så ännu snedare. Stark mot svag mot invalid. Sekulär mot fascistoid.”
“Kontinuerlig drift” is one of the lesser tracks here, in my opinion. That said, there’s not a bad track on the entire album! Everything then comes to an end with “Allting tar slut”, another epic track that shows Opeth doing what they do best. “Stark är den som vågar vara svag. Jag är du, du är jag“. That’s how it feels. Thanks! Album of the year? Quite possibly!
Title: In Cauda Venenum
Label: Moderbolaget/Nuclear Blast
Date of release: 2019-09-27
Standout track: Hjärtat vet vad handen gör