Opeth mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt and soul singer Joss Stone would not appear to have much in common, but when it comes to outlook, they truly are kindred spirits. A few years ago when speaking to TEN, Stone said: "I made a kind of vow to myself that I would never make the same album twice. And that means some people will like some albums more than the others. And, y'know, no-one's going to love every single one of them. But so? I have to just make different stuff."
It's a quote that serves as a good companion to Pale Communion, an album that sees Åkerfeldt and co go further down the prog rabbit hole of 2011's Heritage and asks fans if they can manage to squeeze in too - they'll gain some new ones, perplex some old ones and have others defending this record as just another point on Opeth's 25-year journey. That quarter-century has been a trip in the true sense of the word, where direction and destination are anyone's guess. How apt that the hand of cards on the back cover here has Åkerfeldt depicted as the joker.
This is quite the workout for ear and mind, with wow and what the... moments throughout, and the feeling that a good six months may be needed to reach a decision on whether it will join the once-a-year or once-a-day ranks in your collection. One minute you're marvelling at a guitar solo or harmonies with more heart than some bands' entire careers, the next you find yourself saying: "We're not about to do a free-form jazz exploration in front of a festival crowd" to no one in particular. Mikael Åkerfeldt, he wrote this, indeed.
It's so rare these days to find acts that are willing to take risks and push their faithful, but both happen here in abundance. Åkerfeldt is such a button-pusher and collector nut himself that a listen to Pale Communion will more than likely conjure up images of him debating merits and meaning on a street corner with one of its owners for half an hour. Both, you feel, would shake hands at the end the wiser. Similar conversations will happen between friends and strangers too, reminding us all why we got into this stuff in the first place, and why our lives are the better for it.
For opening up people's minds and making them think about music in a different way, Opeth's place on the honour roll is assured. Above anything else they've released, there's a romanticism on Pale Communion that truly harks back to the good old days when musicians were allowed - and allowed themselves - freedom, when not everything had to tick the same boxes all the time. It's time that we now need to free up to really give this a chance; let's see in late February how we all feel.
Be talking to you.