Opeth, Sorceress

Opeth, <i>Sorceress</i>

Opeth have divided their fans over the last few years by taking a musical approach that can barely be called metal, much less the brutal, technical death metal with which they made their name. Longtime fans seem to fall into one of two camps: some refuse to accept the new music because it’s “not Opeth”, while others think Michael Akerfeldt and company can do no wrong and praise the music as if it’s the most amazing thing they’ve ever heard.

So, bottom line: if you fall into one of these groups, nothing on this album will change your mind. You will feel the same about this one as you did about Heritage and Pale Communion.

I find myself in a different camp, though. Opeth are an odd band for me. I have never been a huge fan of death metal, but I love Opeth. I actually became a fan through their earlier, non-extreme album, Damnation. The haunting and melancholy music on that album drew me in, and I found myself able to appreciate the rest of Opeth’s catalogue in a way I never would have had they not made that album.

As a result, I became a fan of a band in a genre I normally can’t stand. So, when Heritage came out, I was excited, thinking it would be like Damnation.

I was wrong.

Instead, Heritage and its follow-up, Pale Communion, were more akin to ’70s psychedelic prog-rock. I love a lot of modern (or “neo-“) prog-rock and prog-metal bands, but the spacey stuff from the ’70s does nothing for me. Unfortunately — for me — that seemed to be the main inspiration behind the musical shift.

Both albums were beautifully made and lovingly crafted. It was obvious they sounded exactly the way Akerfeldt and company wanted them to sound. I was open to the change, but the change ended up doing nothing for me. Unlike the Opeth on Damnation, which displayed an underlying sense of urgency in spite of its mellow approach, the Opeth on Heritage and Pale Communion seemed meandering and lost — and content to be that way.

So, if you’re like me and wanted to like the new direction but just couldn’t buy into it, how does Sorceress sound? To me, it’s an improvement. Several songs have a welcome return of some much-missed heaviness and crunch. It’s still rooted in ’70s sounds and styles, but there’s more ebb and flow, providing more variety in the mood.

Also, Akerfeldt’s singing voice has a bit more bite to it. I know that sounds ironic, seeing as how he employs one of the best growls in the genre, but his singing voice has always been a little same-y for me. It worked great on Damnation, as a complete change of pace from what had gone before, but over the course of two straight albums that called for nothing more than a simple croon, I began to wish that he’d either return to the growls or employ a different singer. Here, though, there are several places where he adds a bit of gravel that helps diversify his sound. That said, there’s still a bit too much “down time” — spacey, proggy meanderings — for my taste.

For those who are interested, here’s a song by song breakdown:

“Persephone” is a moody instrumental that starts things off nicely, making me think I might just hear a brutal aural assault with the next track, “Sorceress.” Instead, we get a minute-long intro that is all ’70s synth noodling. My hopes that had been raised by “Persephone” were close to being dashed — but then the song proper kicks in with a nice, heavy riff. We also hear some actual grit in Akerfeldt’s vocals.

“The Wilde Flowers” is very retro, proggy, and synth-heavy, but retains a nice driving feel. There is also a very nice extended guitar solo. Akerfeldt continues to sound like he’s finally coming into his own voice — he no longer sounds like a guy who used to growl trying to sing, but is actually showing some range and variation.

“Will O the Wisp” is mid-paced and kind of forgettable; not bad, by any means, but it doesn’t stand out in any way.

“Chrysalis” return to heavy retro-’70s territory. Like “The Wilde Flowers,” it’s very keyboard-/synth-heavy. Some more very nice guitar work.

“Sorceress 2” has Akerfeldt singing in a soft, high vocal over an acoustic guitar and keyboard. It’s pretty, but it never really goes anywhere. It sounds more like a coda for “Sorceress” that was mistakenly made into its own song.

“The Seventh Sojourn” is a mostly instrumental piece with a short vocal/chant at the end. It sounds nice, but goes on for too long. At this point, going back to “Sorceress 2,” we’ve had close to 10 minutes of very mellow music without much ebb and flow.

“Strange Brew” opens with more very mellow music, and I began to despair that we’d heard all the heaviness we were going to get. Finally, at the 2-minute mark, we get some. It’s still very retro and 70s-sounding, but it is heavy. The song slows down again around 5:00, and then the heaviness returns around 7:00. Unfortunately, the song ends up going out with a sigh.

“A Fleeting Glance” is mid-tempo, with a soaring melody and some nice guitar work. The keyboard really works on this one.

“Era” starts with a barely-audible keyboard, but the heaviness kicks in again around the minute mark. There’s a very drving sound from the drums and some nice guitar work. After a while, though, it’s just kind of same-y throughout.

“Persephone (slight return)” ends things on a piano coda.

(Nuclear Blast America -- http://www.nuclearblast.com/; Opeth -- http://www.opeth.com/; Opeth (Facebook) -- https://www.facebook.com/Opeth/; Opeth (Twitter) -- https://twitter.com/OfficialOpeth)
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Review by . Review posted Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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