Sikth are one of the few bands that truly need no introduction. The majority of the current modern metal scene owes so much to them. Despite having released only two albums about a decade ago and having been disbanded for a better part of that, their name is held with great reverence as originators of the sound that later morphed into djent, and one of the most important metal bands of our times. Obviously, when they announced they will be reuiniting and putting out an EP, everyone was ecstatic. When that EP expanded in scope and turned into a “mini album” with six tracks, it got even better. Lo and behold, suddenly, we have another Sikth release. It’s quite hard to process Opacities given that it’s by one of the greats returning with brand new music after quite a while. Expectations are high, but so is risk. We’ve seen this scenario play out so many times in so many different ways, a reunion album that is an embarrassment because they clearly don’t “have it” any more, or worse, is a realization that they never “had it”. There have been great ones too, but those are far and few between, but it somehow always felt like if Sikth returned, they would be great again. Well, turns out that this feeling isn’t unjustified, as Opacities feels like Sikth never really left at all, they never forgot to smile.
Seriously, it’s an understatement to say that this album is hard to evaluate fairly. It’s hard not to dissolve into a mess of goo over excitement of hearing new Sikth material. But that also means the bar is set quite high, so perhaps it’s a fair trade-off. Despite having access to the album for about a month now, I felt that it was important to hold off on impressions until it really sank in, despite being a rather short “mini album”, because the temptation of hype can be dangerous. What ended up happening, however, was the opposite. The album sunk its teeth deeper into me, became a part of my consciousness to the point that I was humming melodies to myself, without even realizing what they are, then ended up recognizing them as parts of Opacities. Does this mean it’s flawless? Not necessarily – however it is powerful and subversive.
How does one define the core strengths of Sikth? Sure, a technical definition would go something like “Mike Goodman’s off-the-wall vocals contrasted with Justin Hill’s singing, Pin and Weller’s syncopated riffing and tapping, Dan Foord’s tight drumming and Leach’s bass backing it all up”. But like a lot of bands that are above a certain threshold of greatness, Sikth can’t simply be described as a sum of the parts. The heartstrings they pull, the atmosphere they provoke with their lyrics, the liveliness they convey, the small moments that turn into grand moments. That’s what Sikth is. That’s where they left off with 2006’s Death of a Dead Day. Opacities follows it like it were an EP they put out a year after Death of a Dead Day. Perhaps to a fault, but we’ll get to that later. It’s like a compression of the best moments of the band’s career, every song highlighting parts of their sound that came to define them. In that way, Opacities is akin to pure fan service – it’s a love letter to fans of Sikth. Spanning nearly 30 minutes with 6 songs, the album both feels a lot longer and shorter than it is. It feels longer than it is in that it’s a complete statement, it doesn’t leave the listener hanging like an EP, it feels satisfying like a full album. But it also feels shorter than it is because even though the album in itself is satisfying, it’s hard to be objectively satisfied with only 30 more minutes of new Sikth, it’s hard not to want more.
Four of the six tracks are high-energy, progressive riff and vocal extravaganzas that Sikth have come to be known for. Moving across time signatures, catchy lines, mind-blowing guitar licks accentuated by snappy drumming and a variety of emotions, the first three tracks and the fifth track are immediate Sikth classics. “Tokyo Lights” continues the tradition of a demented spoken voice track that one just has to listen to, and the closer, “Days Are Dreamed” is a ballad that showcases the band’s flexibility that they’ve hinted at on previous releases. Mike Goodman’s unique screaming style is as fresh as ever, the guitar playing is still creative and ahead of our times, everything that made Sikth special back in the day is still present. Exquisitely produced, the album sounds better than pretty much all of the band’s modern contemporaries, with crushing yet clear tones that emphasize the humanity of the playing instead of flattening it. The vocals sit perfectly in the mix, and the drums and bass sound just right, working in unison with everything else to create the perfect sound. Close listens reveal the small flourishes in every instrument which makes the listening experience that more immersive.
Does Opacities do anything wrong? Perhaps not inherently, but in the context of its time and release, it might be argued that it’s rather safe. As mentioned earlier, the album sounds like a continuation of exactly where Sikth left off 9 years ago, but obviously for the rest of us that time did pass, new bands came and went, Sikth’s sound came to define the genre of djent that got expounded upon. In fact, it can be argued that genre grew to the point that it reached its limit and imploded, giving birth to newer genres. Yet here come Sikth, like none of this happened, still doing their thing. Is Opacities irrelevant? That’s a tough question to tackle. The fact of the matter is Sikth were vastly ahead of their time, and to date, still are unmatched in terms of their finesse over this sound. Perhaps the sound itself got a bit played out, but Sikth’s personal brand of it still feels fresh. While it’s important to analyze music in the context of its circumstances, it’s also important to look at how it stands on its own. Opacities is exactly what people wanted from the band, their already-established sound further polished, and just more of it. Is it fair to expect Sikth to break new barriers, establish a new baseline? While they gained fame as pioneers a decade ago, they don’t need to be pioneers again to make a successful record. It would be so easy for something to go wrong with Opacities – over-reliance on the band’s legacy, trying to be different, realizing they don’t have the spark anymore – it could have all come crashing down. Instead, the band chose to just make more of what people loved about them and make a statement that they’re still alive. Maybe this might disappoint those who expected the band to come out with a completely unexpected, mind-blowing avant-garde release, but that could also be considered disappointing for not giving fans what they expected. In the end, while it is up for the listener to decide what they want from Sikth, and whether another injection of top notch music following the narrative from The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait For Something Wild to Death of a Dead Day.
Overall, Opacities is excellent. It shows that Sikth are still alive, kicking and at the top of their game. Continuing exactly where they left off 9 years ago without even missing a beat, the originators of modern progressive metal are back from the grave. 30 minutes of new Sikth is very exciting and the mini-album feels complete, but we want more. It’s easy to fault the band for not progressing too much, but the music is just so good and infectious regardless, so it doesn’t really matter – after not having made music together in nearly a decade, so much could have gone wrong, but turns out they’re still perfect. The band put together this release in seven months through the funding of their fans, and now that they’ve re-proven themselves (as if they ever needed to), it’s extremely exciting to see what the future holds for Sikth. But right now, Opacities is incredible, and that’s the only thing that matters.
Sikth – Opacities gets…