For those longtime Opeth fans who view 2011’s Heritage as a misstep for its near-complete expulsion of metal from the band’s now-signature sound… well, “Cusp of Eternity” isn’t likely to hit the spot. More or less picking up where the fusion-leaning Heritage left off, “Cusp of Eternity,” the first song to be released from the forthcoming Pale Communion LP, is a continuation of Opeth’s move away from the progressive death-metal stylings the band helped pioneer with records like Blackwater Park (2001) and Ghost Reveries (2005).
The track premiered on MetalSucks, a fitting venue particularly because the site had one of the more interesting conversations about the change in Opeth’s sound, held in a comment section of a poll that asked readers if they liked Heritage or not. Many of the discussion’s well-spoken commenters argued that Heritage was a weaker Opeth offering not because the exclusion of heavier riffs is an inherently faulty move — see the band’s fairly popular 2003 release Damnation, which is even more un-metal than Heritage. Rather, these commenters hold, by eliminating death growls and darker guitar tones, Opeth was lessening the band’s dynamic variance, in the process making the music less compelling overall. The sense of disappointment that often surrounded Heritage is based around the reasonable claim that Opeth had forged an identity leading up to that album, and that identity involved harsh vocals and death-metal guitar. For Heritage to leave those aspects of the music out, then, is to leave out a part of what makes Opeth the band that it is.
I, along with many others, happen to agree with the MetalSucks commenters but also enjoy Heritage. Opeth is at its best when it blends together metal and the ’70’s progressive rock that frontman Mikael Akerfeldt so very adores. Plus, having seen Heritage cuts like the Ronnie Dio tribute “Slither” performed live, I can attest that what may seem like a lack of heaviness on a record can become as heavy as any metal tune in the live setting. Continuing in the gains made by that album, “Cusp of Eternity” simultaneously emphasizes a long-running trait of Opeth’s sound and takes the band into new territory.
The track bears many classic Opeth traits: Akerfeldt’s excellent clean vocals (which only get better with each successive album), legato guitar passages, and a tonality that suggests that Akerfeldt and guitarist Fredrik Akesson have spent more than a little bit of time practicing their Hungarian minor scales. The track also bears some similarity in mood to the many groups in the ever-growing occult rock subgenre, bolstered by Pale Communion‘s tarot card-esque sleeve art. The chorus, consisting of a wordless harmony vocal, moves Opeth even further into the realm of vintage progressive rock. There are still three months to go until Pale Communion‘s August 26th release, but if “Cusp of Eternity” is any indication, these Swedish titans are still challenging themselves — and their audiences — in exciting ways.