Opeth Credit: Jonas Åkerlund

Beloved and influential Swedish progressive metal band Opeth play Chicago for the first time in nearly three years in support of a new album, last fall’s In Cauda Venenum (“Poison in the Tail”), released in English and Swedish versions. The band, established in 1989, have traditionally recorded only in English, so it’s fascinating to hear how the mother tongue of front man Mikael Åkerfeldt interacts with their intricate sound; when he sings in Swedish (a language I do not know at all), he seems to fold his vocals in among the keyboard sweeps with a homey, organic assurance. The band initially intended to release the album in Swedish only, and recorded the English version later on. Both are worthwhile, and listening to them side by side is an opportunity to compare the language-as-sound element that doesn’t come along all that often. In both languages, the album has been met with a mixed reception: rapturous praise from prog fans who love the sophisticated textures and lush arrangements (and are relieved that In Cauda Venenum sounds more cleanly mastered than its predecessor, 2016’s Sorceress) and irritation from older death-metal fans, who can still hear the band’s serious shredding power, albeit sparingly wielded, on “Heart in Hand” and “Next of Kin.” That sort of response has been typical for the group as far back as 2002, when they put out the brutalDeliverance and the light Damnation just months apart—those releases crystallized the tension between those who see Opeth as a brilliant progressive band with a heavy war chest and those who see them as a brilliant death-metal band who tend to fritter around too much with cerebral indulgences. Either way, the key word here is “brilliant,” and there’s no reason Åkerfeldt and company shouldn’t just keep plowing straight down that middle course.   v