The core lineup of Mastodon has been in place for 21 years, an eternity in the highest echelons of metal, where even the most legendary band names eventually become brands staffed by a rotating cast of hired guns. And yet, Brann Dailor, Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher, and Troy Sanders experienced enough individual and collective tragedy to threaten their adamantine bond - the death of their longtime friend and manager Nick John after battling pancreatic cancer, a devastating global pandemic that put their faith, families, and livelihoods in jeopardy. Mastodon’s decades of success and the brotherhood between its four members had not made them any more immune to the possibility that it could all splinter tomorrow.
Sweden’s Opeth are preparing to release their most important record to date with “In Cauda Venenum”. Certainly, fans and critics will have their opinion, but few records in the Swedes’ oeuvre are as engaging, delicate, panoramic, intense, and musical as Opeth’s lucky thirteenth. Sporting a clever Travis Smith cover—replete with inside jokes and a nod to King Diamond—a masterful Park Studios (The Hellacopters, Graveyard) production, Opeth’s usual five-star musicianship, and lyrics entirely in Swedish, “In Cauda Venenum” raises the bar markedly. While a record in Swedish is a first—there’s also an English version—for frontman and founding member Mikael Åkerfeldt, the 10 songs on offer feel and sound completely natural. As if years of listening to and being a fan of Swedish rock and hard rock has paid off. In a way, Opeth have come home. But the Swedish lyrics of the primary edition of “In Cauda Venenum” shouldn’t distract from the quality presented in Opeth’s new songs, the lot of which sneak up and take control after repeated listens. “In Cauda Venenum” is like that, tricky in its complicated simplicity, resourceful in its ability to charm with delightful if wistful melodies. Really, it’s just Opeth being Opeth.