If there’s a band who’s put the “progress” into “progressive metal”, it’s Sweden’s Opeth. The band’s new album “Sorceress”, their 12th studio release, continues on the musical trend they started with the 2011 album “Heritage”. Heavily influenced by the progressive rock giants of the 70’s, they’ve shed the death metal vocals to adopt a much more melodic style. The heavy guitars are still there, but aren’t the main focal point of the arrangements anymore. Band leader Mikael Åkerfeldt has recently stated in an interview that he’s “not interested in writing for anyone but himself”, and clearly what he wants is to advance the sound of Opeth.
If you worship at the altar of “Blackwater Park”, you might be disappointed in this album. Or not. Because I’d say that what’s left is nonetheless 100% Opeth; they just stripped away the more brutal elements while keeping the splendid musicianship and intricate songwriting. The album opens with “Persephone”, an instrumental played on nylon string guitars with a strong influence from the classical repertoire, along with narration by Pascale Marie Vickery. The title track “Sorceress” follows, offering a heavy dose of late 60’s/early 70’s psychedelic rock mixed with chugging guitars. “The Wilde Flowers” continues in the same vein, and by then it’s clear that one thing has remained constant throughout their career: the album sounds fantastic, as usual. Every instrument exists in its own region of the frequency spectrum, and the listener can easily appreciate the intricacies of each musician’s parts.
“Will O the Wisp” has a folkish quality to it, and might be the most “commercial” song on “Sorceress”. “Chrysalis” is the heaviest song of the lot, and features great drum work from Martin Axenrot who effortlessly changes the mood of the song, and accentuates the band’s riffs. “Sorceress 2” is a lovely ethereal ballad that seems more akin to the opening track than its namesake song. Åkerfeldt then draws inspiration from Middle Eastern scales for “The Seventh Sojourn”, an atmospheric instrumental piece that just begs to be listened to with the lights out and the volume up.
It’s almost with sound effects that the band introduces “Strange Brew”, the album’s longest song at 8:44. But two minutes in, it veers into a manic prog maelström that would have made the masters of the 70’s proud, before of course evolving into a different song. The band follows this tour-de-force with “A Fleeting Glance”, a gentle song played first on the harpsichord, before morphng into a more standard rock arrangement. “Era” starts as a gentle piano piece, but by then you kind of know to expect the arrangement to be upended and for the song to become something else. And it does. The latter part turns into one of the best songs on the record; maybe this one should have been called “Chrysalis” instead because there’s definitely a metamorphosis happening!
And finally, starting on the last hit of the previous song, the brief “Persephone (Slight Return)” bookends the record, with Pascale Marie Vickery returning as narrator. The deluxe edition adds two studio tracks, along with three live recordings. Honestly, the eleven tracks that make up “Sorceress” stand together as a coherent whole, despite their differences, without the listener yearning for expansion.
“Sorceress” feels like Opeth without necessarily sounding like their early records, if that makes any sense. And after three consecutive albums in this vein, it’s fair to say that this is what the band is now. This is an album that defies a single description, such is the breadth of influences present. It’s also an amazing record, from a band always willing to re-invent itself. Highly recommended.