Friday, July 29, 2011

Album Art Breakdown--Opeth

We all know by now that Opeth's new album, titled Heritage, will be out on September 20th.  At least, I think that everybody should know.

Offhand.  Because Opeth rules.

But there's a lot of buzz surrounding this album in particular, because frontman Mikael Akerfeldt did something that I usually reserve as a glaring, seething no-no on extreme metal records.  The album is said to contain no death growls.  All clean singing?  ??!?  I'm usually suspicious of bands who decide that they're going to expand their sound in this way, because a solid 99% of metal vocalists can neither sing nor write lyrics that people should be able to understand.

We all know these truths to be self evident, right?

But I'm giving Opeth a pass on this, because Mikael Akerfeldt is one of the (very, very few) metal frontmen who can not only carry a rudimentary tune, but does it with silky soulfulness and never comes across like a whiny little boner.  It's part of what gives Opeth their singular, oft admired but never duplicated sound, and it's something that helps people like me, too, because my wife likes when Mikael Akerfeldt sings, and that makes for less arguments about what we're listening to in the car that devolve into arguments about when we're going to have children.

But we're not going to talk about those arguments.

The point is, Opeth is taking some chances with this new record, and it shows on their album artwork.  Since I think it's important that people know what I think artwork means and that they also think that, I'm here today to break down the daring album artwork for Heritage for you.  Because I'm so nice.

I think the most thought provoking part of this piece is the fact that the band decided to go with the old progressive rock record tradition of finding a ridiculous way to include portraits of the band into seemingly unrelated artwork.  It's a breathtaking thing.  But once I started doing my research, ran the artwork under some X-rays and infrared lights, and swallowed a couple of pictures of the artwork to really get it in my system, I found the connection that the skulls have to Sour Herring Premier, an unpopular Swedish late summer tradition.

So the focal point of the entire piece is the Tree of Death, whose roots go down into the underground and connect to a two-faced demon monster.  This obviously symbolizes the celebration of the Swedish holiday of Sour Herring Premier, which is the Northern Swedish version of the Crayfish Festival.  As you can see, the tree is being picked by the villagers, all of whom need a photorealistic head of a member of Opeth to sour their herring in before putting the herring into the tins to properly sour until the third Thursday of August.  Then the local herring sourers can start selling the pungent treat to the locals who have burned their tastebuds off by years of eating something that sounds (and probably is) as horrifying as Sour Herring.

And have no worries, local villagers.  The preparations for the festivities of Sour Herring Premier are finally underway; you've set your city on fire and made your way to the creepy tree where Opeth heads grow in the summertime.  Did you sleep in a little late?  Or perhaps your house was particularly difficult to set on fire because your lack of a drinking problem left your clothes and furniture bereft of adequately flammable alcohol?  If you're not one of the lucky few who gets a fresh Mikael Akerfeldt or Frederik Akesson, there are thankfully plenty of Opeth skulls littering the ground, and those are better for the lazy villager.  They've already lost their flesh, so the rotting head flesh of your Opeth skull won't overpower the delicious sour herring that you've been allowing to rot slightly.  You wouldn't want to not be able to smell rotten, stinky fish!  And you can eat breakfast cereal out of the skulls once the Premier is over.

And for those who are willing to be patient, it's clear that the heads will grow back over time.  I mean, look at that accumulation of skulls around the roots!  When the heads ripen they fall off and make room for new heads, which presumably look like baby versions of the band members and grow like human heads until they finally have fashionable beards and long, silky hair.

It's not very often that bands have album artwork that actually means something, so I'd like to hand it to Opeth for drawing attention to a horrible sounding Swedish tradition with your artwork.  I'm excited to hear the new album, but only because I'm such an Opeth super fan.  If I cared less, I'd be super bummed out by the idea of a band doing all clean singing (at least it's not going to also be all acoustic like Damnation, though I also liked that album a great deal).

If you want to hear a song off the new album, you should go check it out on Metalsucks.  It's...confusing.  And exhilarating.  Like your first sexual experience, except you don't have to hide that embarrassing wet spot that develops on the front of your jeans.  Unless you're me; I totally get that wet spot when I listen to Opeth.

And reading about Swedish traditional festivals is also confusing and exhilarating.  You should go to the website that I went to and see how other cultures live.  It reaffirms my confidence in America, where all of our holidays are built around good old fashioned consumerism, the way God intended.

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