Opeth - In Cauda Venenum

Opeth In Cauda Venenum cover
In Cauda Venenum
Moderbolaget Records / Nuclear Blast
In all honesty, I was not a big fan of Opeth when they were playing death metal, since I thought other bands were doing a much better job at it, but when they started going soft, circa “Still Life”, I thought they were losing every ounce of credibility. They inadvertently abandoned their extreme style for a more mature, so called progressive style, just a little bit into the millennium and released a bunch of watered down albums that gained them a wider appeal, as they became more and more accessible.
In the 10s and starting with “Heritage” the band drifted even further away from its extreme metal roots, by eliminating all growly vocals etc. and attempting to ape 70s prog rock, with let’s be honest, mixed results. I must say that this latest era is the only one I could listen to with a straight face, but again, they do not seem to justify the whole fuss about their name. Numerous bands from the 70s were heads and shoulders above Opeth, both in chops, as well as in ideas and let’s be honest, Åkerfeldt might be an okay guitarist, but most certainly he’s not a great singer. He’s acceptable at best, his crooning hardly awe inspiring and necessitating copious amounts of reverb to sound “nice”. This wasn’t so painfully obvious during the early days, but in this “Arty-farty” phase of their careers it sticks up like a sore thumb.
Another super pretentious thing, I guess is the band’s decision to release this album in two languages, their native Swedish and English, the two albums hardly having any great sonic differences, other than the language of the lyrics and the occasional subtle chord change to accommodate the enunciation in a different language. Either one or the other – or separate territorial releases would have sufficed.
But my biggest beef with an album such as “In Cauda Venenum” (poisonous sting in the tail?) is the songs… it’s a self-absorbed album that’s got meandering songs, which don’t particularly show off chops, but are neither melodic and pleasant… just tense exercises in self-indulgence that build for a long time and sometime offer a release.
The album begins with the pulsating, ambient intro of “Garden of Earthly Delights”, which is succeeded by “Dignity”, a bizarre high concept piece with symphonic pretensions and a weird voice over repeating. A nice riff-line repeats, and the song actually takes flight midway, only to trans-morph by different voicings into a somewhat confusing mess.
“Heart in Hand” is the best song on the album, with a poppy sounding cascade over a galloping drum, it changes midway in a dramatically ethereal way only to go for a two minute acoustic outro, which really doesn’t add or subtract from the song, but feels unnecessary.
Next of Kin” begins with some eastern flavored wailing and while some guitars an orchestrations during its seven plus minutes are not bad; it just seems to veer on without any focus for the entirety of its duration. I mean the outro is a one minute vain exercise that would even make Manowar reconsider the chaotic finishes to some of their older songs.
“Lovelorn Crime” is a mediocre ballad, with piano and strings and some not particularly flattering vocals by Åkerfeldt.
“Charlatan” suddenly decides to go for complex percussion and a riff that’s prog metal inspired, while Åkerfeldt keeps bellowing over it. It has its moments, but it feels somewhat disjointed, with its “Swedish Voice overs” and randomness.
“Universal Truth” has some interesting ideas and actually nice melodies, but some seriously weak vocals, especially when Åkerfeldt tries to sing too soft, but ends up sounding as if he’s actually mocking the song. Also midway the song decides to stop and start a different acoustic section and take a stab in the dark at one of the biggest 70s prog bands.
I dunno what to make of “The Garroter”, a dark, cabaret, variety theater styled composition driven by an ominous riff on the piano. At least the vocals here feel immaculately matching the song’s style. It’s not bad, just weird and doesn’t help the album feel any less disjointed and lacking flow than it already does.
“Continuum” is another seven minutes of pretentious meandering to the flowery early 70s… that makes little sense and bears even less consequence. Some nice melodies reveal themselves toward the end, but the vocal performance is flimsy at best.
Lastly, “All Things Will Pass” tries to be a great epic piece at over eight minutes, but doesn’t seem to have enough substance. It actually comes to something interesting, which however sounds quite derivative in the last couple of minutes… but doesn’t manage to justify its extended duration.
With “Heritage” probably being their first and best attempt at sounding prog rock, Opeth has gone too far up their own arse to sound even remotely interesting... as they end out sounding like a bad version of Genesis, sans the guitar tone, the unique but great vocals, or the really smart melodies that interlocked into actual songs. “In Cauda Venenum” instead feels like a mishmash of ideas that the band squished together hoping it would all work, or hoping that at least their name and promoters would manage to convince people that it’s another “masterpiece”! Far from it, this is Opeth at their most boring and self-indulgent with the odd glimmers of inspiration lost in an unnecessarily long album.