Opeth – “Sorceress”


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Most of you know that I’m not a huge fan of Opeth.  I’ve never been able to get into their older black metal style, and even their newer foray into classic prog rock has just left something to be desired for me; whether that be musically or lyrically, I can’t be sure.  They’re definitely a force to be reckoned with, however, which is why I’ve decided to review the new album, “Sorceress”.  After hearing it, I’m actually surprised at how different it is from “Pale Communion”.

Opeth is probably one of the most popular progressive bands active today.  Even kids that have never heard of most progressive music walk around wearing their shirts, and I shake my head every time I walk by a Hot Topic store and see all their merch everywhere.  These guys are seriously popular, and have even maintained it even through their shift in style.  Changing from black metal to progressive rock is a big deal, but these guys have handled it with style and class.

The band still consists of Mikael Åkerfeldt on vocals, Fredrik Åkesson on guitars, Joakim Svalberg on keys, Martín Méndez on bass, and Martin Axenrot on drums.  These guys are time-tested musicians, so of course all of their performances are top notch.  I especially love the drumming from Martin, and Mikael never disappoints with his winding, varied vocals.  I’m actually not sure why people want the growls back, as he has a fantastic voice.

Their newer style for the last few albums has predominately meant retro keys, lighter guitars with more solos, and, of course, the infamous lack of growls.  “Sorceress” is no different, although it does sound different overall.  Comparing it purely with their previous album, “Pale Communion” seemed more based in bass grooves and even technical performances, Sorceress is based more in that “retro” sound in the keys and low-tuned guitars.  Overall, it’s not a very technical album, as it exudes personality more than musical difficulty.  It has plenty of folk elements, almost in a macabre style (hence the cover art), and you’ll even hear some Middle Eastern accents, too.

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Much of the album, though, is purely noise and retro hard rock.  It get chaotic at points, and not in a technical kind of way.  In contrast, you will also hear classical style piano, which seems odd, but it adds an atmosphere I really appreciate.  Overall, the album seems like a bunch of contrasts.  While the music is slightly heavier and crunchier than the last couple albums, it also seems softer and smoother.  The drumming is still as active and well filled as usual, but the bass seems more distant and more textured.

These, of course, are slight variations of their same formula; a formula that I’m not a huge fan of anyways.  “Sorceress” is a solid album with several great songs, but in the end it almost feels more like style over substance, and most of songs sound exactly the same.  While it is enjoyable, it’s one of those albums where you start wondering how long it’s going to last, and then you realize that you are only 3 or 4 tracks into the album.  Tracks like “The Wilde Flowers”, “Strange Brew”, or “Sorceress 2” feel lost to me.  There’s a general sense that there is no real melody and focal point to them, though “Strange Brew” has a great bass groove.  In the end, tracks like these feel more like chaotic filler than fully realized tracks.

I do really enjoy the title track, at least part one.  I know some were disappointed with it, but I was hoping the rest of the album would have that darker feel to it.  I also like “Chrysalis” and “Era” in a slightly passive way, as they are rather distinguishable from the rest of the album, with a lighter, more ethereal touch to the former and a classical, heavy feel to the latter.  I also really, really like “Will O Wisp”, the ballad on the album.  It has a wonderful vocal line and hook, and I honestly can’t get enough of it.  My favorite track is “The Seventh Sojourn, though.  I honestly almost expected a tribute to the Moody Blues somehow, but I had no such luck.  The song, though, is rather evocative and melodious with its Middle Eastern theme, and I find myself returning to it more than any other.

In a nutshell, “Sorceress” will again be another division in the Opeth ranks.  If you liked the last two albums, you are sure to love this one.  If you want the death metal growls back, you’ll hate this album, more than likely.  I myself think it’s a solid album in a year with many, many other albums that outshine it, but I do enjoy it for its veiled gentleness; but I am, of course, a fan of “Damnation”, so what do I know?

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