I've been a fan of Opeth for quite a while. Even though I always preferred them without the growls, I got used to them and learned to enjoy the songs for what they were. Still, when Damnation came out in 2003, I was hoping that it signaled a new direction for the band. Actually, it took another eight years before Opeth made the definitive "Post Opeth" move and dropped the death metal vocals for good, putting out Heritage in 2011. I should have been esctatic... well not quite. It seemed to me that the band had lost something when dropping the death elements from their music (or perhaps the inspiration was not there). Heritage was an OK album, but it seemed to lack energy and focus. Nothing on it really caught my ear and I found myself not playing it very often.
Now three years later, Pale Communion comes out and Opeth has maintained it's new mission. Pale Communion is clearly not a Death Metal Prog album, it is a true Progressive Rock CD, very much with a vintage style and sound. The good news is that, in my humble opinion, it's a much better album than Heritage. The writing is back to the level that made Opeth the great band it is. Great writing, nice grooving and riffs and Åkerfedlt's guitar playing is as good as it ever was. Again, like on Heritage, there is a lot of keyboards on Pale Communion, but nothing "Neo Proggish" here. We are much closer to Deep Purple or Nektar than Arena for example. In fact, the keys often feature some great organ playing and they really blend well with the rest of the music.
Pale Communion reassures me that Opeth has succeeded in making it's transition from "Death Metal Prog" to classic "Progressive Rock". They have managed to do that (partly because Progessive Rock has been a good part of their music in the past anyway) while clearly remaining Opeth. Because of that, I think that most of their past fans will remain faithfull to them and continue to enjoy this great band.
Pale Communion is an album that should appeal to all their fans (new and old). It's a great record that surely deserves multiple listens. Opeth is definitively back and kicking in 2014.