Review Summary: Opeth conjure forth Sorceress, showing an eagerness to traverse exciting new musical realms in their characteristically eclectic manner.
It has been clear for the past decade now that Opeth have largely shifted identities, even if the band don’t necessarily see it that way. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt recently stated that Heritage
from 2011 wasn’t a huge change, outside of a few new production techniques. While an understandable justification, many fans would disagree. What those who detest this new evolution need to realize is that there is simply nothing wrong with changing interests and inspiration. Åkerfeldt didn’t stifle his new passions for uninspired outputs just to please fans, or funnel them into a side or solo project. He harnessed his main band to journey through these new visions unapologetically. While many would (and did) voice their disapproval, his actions are commendable given where the inspiration took him. Heritage
remains divisive to this day, but is truly a hugely accomplished modern rock album that lived up to the even more meditative Damnation
from nearly a decade before. Despite Åkerfeldt’s statements, it was a brave move, and an innovation that also thrives within Sorceress
. Metalheads need not bother to hope for a return to the sounds of Blackwater Park
or Ghost Reveries
here; Opeth continue to look forward, with a hugely diverse offering of musical styles at play.
The most compelling aspect of Sorceress
is in how well it flows. While Pale Communion
successfully functioned as an idiosyncratic collection of melodic tunes, Opeth have shifted focus for a more cohesive offering. Make no mistake, while sprawling and volatile, the band sounds impressively focused here. The dynamic presence plays a crucial role, as grandiose progressive rock will gracefully transition to a softer, ethereal soundscape flawlessly. These changes ebb and flow throughout the record, paying no mind to the individual song transitions themselves. This lends to a nice characteristic of unpredictability, especially with adventurous cuts like “The Wilde Flowers,” “Chrysalis,” and “Strange Brew.” While a minimal use of their metal side is present, these prog epics contain plenty of driving qualities, and see the band at their most energetic in quite some time. As fun as they can get, these do occasionally descend into self-indulgence. The title track sounds like a Ghost song until the second half, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it takes a while for it and “The Wilde Flowers” as well to get going.
Softer sides of Sorceress
largely save the more ambitious cuts from lingering in their weaker moments for too long. The gorgeous middle section of the album sees Opeth challenging genre boundaries for melodious odysseys traversing the boundaries of folk, progressive rock, and psychedelia. “The Seventh Sojourn” takes the doom-laden, occultish nature of “The Grand Conjuration” and transforms it into a ritualistic, jaunty folk instrumental. While it stands as one of the band’s strangest creations yet, they make it work, in part due to the majestic outro. Overall, comparisons to the past are difficult, as they are clearly intent on continuing to explore exciting new musical realms in their characteristically eclectic manner. While not every experiment works, the lighter sections remain pleasant to listen to if nothing else, but are usually elevated above easy listening material to be truly special. Even the simplistic “Persephone” intro and outro tracks function as sublime bookends, with the similar “Sorceress 2” in particular channeling the most beautiful aspects of Heritage
and Pale Communion
is the strongest of this new trilogy, as well as laying the blueprint for this current era, Sorceress
is able to push the adventurous qualities further to outstanding effect. The instrumental performances are top notch as always, with each band member’s contributions feeling crucial. “Strange Brew” just wouldn’t be as exciting if not for Martin Axenrot’s incredible drumming, and the soulful guitar playing of Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson’s make “Will O The Wisp” and “Sorceress 2” as remarkable as they are. Some still lament the loss of metal in their sound, but at least “Era” and the tumultuous title track harness a heavy rock sound successfully. It’s not the same, but Opeth have no one to answer to, with Sorceress
embodying the dynamic and exciting qualities that the band have always excelled in.