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Album Reviews : Opeth – Sorceress

By on September 12, 2016

Sorceress_Album_CoverIt’s made very clear from the outset with Sorceress that this will again be an Opeth album that will divide opinion. Continuing in the vein of Heritage and Pale Communion (the band’s two most recent releases), the Swedes have returned with their latest opus; a work as mesmerising as it is, at times, abnormal. As with the aforementioned albums, Sorceress is more in line with the music of The Sword and Monster Magnet than it is with their earlier progressive death metal releases. As it is with those albums again, no harsh vocals are present across this record. While, of course, still swimming the oceans of progressive music, Sorceress does its dance with stoner rock grooves and guitar licks that are designed to incite obscure imagery and leave you restless. Toying with mellotrons and other strange little effects that run off the end of, or amidst, certain musical interludes, there is a fair bit of subtle darkness and wonder to this record; and, it takes a few listen-throughs to fully appreciate all you are being exposed to.

Opening with the ambient track, “Persephone”, this intro manages to set the tone well for the rest of the album. Just shy of two minutes long, as the tiding melodies of the guitars wash over, it remains individually one of the most gorgeous pieces of instrumental music I’ve heard; a piece that is as beautifully composed and complemented by the soft narrative that hits near its end.

Leading into the title track, the transition from “Persephone” to the opening of “Sorceress” is awkward, to say the least. It honestly feels misplaced being here. The shift from the soft, ambient beginning to a rolling stoner beat is quite jarring. However, as the song plays on, you find yourself once again immersed within its soundscapes in little time. In typical Opeth style, nothing with their albums is ever too predictable. What follows is straight-up The Sword fodder. “The Wilde Flowers” is heavy on the rolling grooves and seems like a song that would be perfect for a live setting: allowing for a rapturous atmosphere through the licks and winding psychedelia of the drums and vocals. Speaking of the drums, across this record Martin “Axe” Axenrot demonstrates his impressive technicality with the kit (especially near the end, where “The Wilde Flowers” reaches fever pitch), delivering an engaging and dynamic performance.

Working thematically as a type of Pale Communion part II, it can be said that Sorceress has some of the more calmer and peaceful songs I’ve heard from Opeth’s discography, and it was an element that really took me off guard on the first couple listens. “Will O The Wisp”, the fourth track on the record, is a prime example of this. It is a song that is as elegantly arranged and written as it is soothing and calming. You can listen through a focused sitting of Sorceress, or as background music, and still receive as rewarding a musical journey on both ends.

“Chrysalis” brings the energy up a notch, pulling out a rather straight-forward hard rock track; laced, again, with a keen psychedelic vibe. Being one of the longer tracks of the album, I was rather intrigued by how consistent this song remains for the most part. It remains mostly in a mid-tempo range, which for Opeth, is quite interesting; and, in fact, in the times where the pace does slow, the quietness of the respite adds another subtle layer to its simpler beauty.

“Sorceress 2” is quite an unusual song. With a calming guitar melody that holds still for the entirety, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals fall into analogue and drift in and out in an almost trance-like manner. It is enchanting in its simplicity, and captures your mind with its tranquil nature. Leading into “The Seventh Sojourn”, this may well be the most experimental track of the album; and one of the more significant departures Opeth have taken in recent years from what they’ve done in the past. Delving into Middle-Eastern sounds, “The Seventh Sojourn” captures that feeling of the far east with a sense that is utterly convincing.

“Strange Brew” in many ways lives up to its name. There isn’t a lot that can be classified as ‘the norm’ when it comes to this song. It sways between a cool, deliberately off-held rhythm – pulling you in softly, slowly – to a moment that hits near the two-minute mark like a slap to the face: erupting with sharp synthesisers courtesy of Joakim Svalberg; unusual guitar patterns; and, time-perfect drumming. Fading into the beautiful “A Fleeting Glance,” led once more by Svalberg’s keys, they complement the electric vocals of Åkerfeldt, with the jazz style playing that follows serving as an exercise in how many influences Opeth continue to pull from and allow themselves to be inspired by. It also houses the most emotionally investing guitar solo of the record, one that bleeds new life into an already impressive arrangement.

Ending the main body of the album with “Era”, here is a song that begins unspoken in its approach, but soon blossoms into a progressive-rock track, lightly aided by ghostly choirs, and the one-two punch of Åkerfeldt’s vocals and Axenrot’s – yet again – stellar drum work. “Era” is a song that perfectly places on showcase each of the individual talents of Opeth, and how they function as a cohesive unit in today’s multi-layered prog world. Never one to conform, “Persephone (Slight Return)” is the perfect bookend to the album: allowing Sorceress to fade out on a fitting emotional note that leaves your mind in a state of loss and a want for more.

As mentioned earlier, Sorceress is an album not easily swallowed on its first listen. Not as simple as it first appears, it is actually an album that wholly demonstrates the ever-growing and expanding talents and influences of the band, with a specific focus, of course, on Mikael Åkerfeldt. The music and themes adopted with the album make Sorceress and Opeth feels as alive as the band ever has, and despite the lack of extreme elements, Opeth own in every way the chosen style they have adopted here. It is an unapologetic and diligent work, and if you allow yourself to remove any past prejudices you may have (to let your mind escape with it), it is truly a rewarding musical experience in a number of ways.

Sorceress is out September 30 via Moderbolaget / Nuclear Blast Records. Pre-order and stream the album now HERE.

About

Jonathon is an aspiring fantasy/sci-fi novelist and music journalist. Thanks to the influence of the music he grew up with, he has always possessed a keen interest in metal and rock. He is also a huge fan of mythology, legend, and folklore from all across the world. You should follow him on Twitter.