If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Farmakon gives Opeth a serious case of the bashfuls with their second disc, Robin. The Finnish progressive death-metal troupe compacts Arabian-flavored riff surges, baroque song structures, growled/sung vocals, and fusion asides into a digestible sampler platter of Opethisms. Robin’s short track lengths will appeal to those of us that secretly wonder what Mikael Akerfeldt and company would sound like without their epic pretensions. But as close as Farmakon gets to sounding like Opeth’s more immediate offspring, even Robin’s best songs feel like reflections of another band’s innovations.
Farmakon are expert mimics, and despite singer Marko Eskola’s wobbly approximation of Akerfeldt’s clean vocals, standout tracks “Coma September” and “Faint Light” would nestle comfortably on Opeth’s Deliverance or Ghost Reveries. Farmakon is more willing to employ blastbeats or strings of odd-meter shifts than Opeth, and for the most part the band’s arrangements are strong enough to accommodate them. Guitarists Lassi Paunonen and Toni Salminen are both first-rate soloists, whether they’re shredding over death-metal chromatics or glossy ambience.
It’s telling that Robin’s few Opeth-divergent moments are also its worst. “Recondite” awkwardly plugs samba-fusion into a death-metal context (if Atheist couldn’t pull it off on Elements, ain’t no way Farmakon can do it here), then ends with cacophonous screaming and an even more awkward free-jazz trumpet solo. Words can’t explain the severe blueballs of hearing a funk-rock instrumental ruin the otherwise raging “Monster.”
Originality isn’t (and shouldn’t be) tantamount with quality, but truly loving Robin would require either blind love for anything “progressive” or a complete ignorance of Opeth’s vaunted back-catalog. Farmakon adds next to nothing to the progressive death-metal lexicon, and as a result, Robin feels plagiarized. When you’re dealing with a style as distinctive as Opeth’s, there can be only one.