For Fans Of
Before I launch off into this review, I have a simple challenge for readers. Find me ten…no, make it five….in fact, make it three bands that are yet to meet their creative peak by their twelfth album with a career spanning twenty-five years. Well, maybe it’s not quite that easy, and when you realise that, one must then consider the phenomena that are Opeth.
Frontman Mikael Akerfeldt and his band of merry men have had the metal world eating out of their palms for the better part of two decades now. They’ve achieved this by not only pushing the boundaries of their own sound and genre but by completely disregarding outsider expectations, staring down the crusty opinions of the leather-clad metal traditionalists and shoving a god almighty middle finger under the nose of the critics (like myself).
Countless publications and message boards believed that the Swedes reached their peak back in 2000 with the release of the game-changing record, ‘Blackwater Park‘. Music journalists the world over would then proclaim that the group had exhausted their creative reserves with what was left on ‘Watershed‘, and many mournfully reminisced their glory days when they supposedly lost their way with the 2010’s jazz-inspired ‘Heritage‘. But Opeth continually shut out the voices of those who opposed to them, those who discredited them, and those who tried to tell them what they should do. As a result, they have become nigh on impossible to match in terms of their sound and originality within the contemporary progressive music world.
This is a record that masterfully combines the band’s creative frustration of the mid-noughties, their experimentation from the early 2010’s and the musical prowess that was revealed on 2014’s ‘The Pale Communion‘ into one extremely potent melting pot of sounds. This album holds true to the bands’ recent rule of providing only clean vocals throughout. This move has breathed fresh life into the band, with the emphasis on melody, plus the addition of keyboardist Joakim Svalberg gives the band room to experiment with their musical arrangements to a far greater degree. The title track is the first true example of this, with the guitars substituting excessive distortion for pure groove. It’s still heavy but in a far crisper sense. The same can be said for cuts like ‘Chrysalis‘ and ‘Era‘, with both tunes containing a different type of heaviness, one that dials back on the volume, but sounds overall sharper and punchier.
The quintet commits to this “heaviness” far more on ‘Sorceress‘ than on any other record, but it’s the band’s increased sense of musical technicality that makes it work so well here. ‘The Wilde Flowers‘ opens with a thundering funk groove, before eventually breaking into what is easily the most chaotic, face melting guitar solo that the band has committed to record. Now, Opeth isn’t usually labelled as “shred-lords”, but on ‘Sorceress‘ they do not hold back in the guitar department. ‘A Fleeting Glance‘, ‘Strange Brew‘ and particularly ‘Chrysalis‘ stand out for the unabashed brilliance of the guitar work. ‘Chrysalis‘ is particularly spell bounding, with the band trading solos between guitars and keyboards, a nod towards the sounds of contemporaries like Dream Theatre and the solo work of Steven Wilson. It might seem a bit glitzy for some, but given its uncharted territory for a band that is now twelve albums deep, I feel like they’ve earnt the right to show off a bit.
Despite all of the new sounds, the initial spirit of Opeth still exists here. ‘Sorceress 2‘ is a beautifully haunting acoustic ballad, evoking memories of ‘Patterns in The Ivy‘ from the ‘Blackwater Park‘ period. In a further throwback to those times of old, ‘Will O’ Wisp‘ reminds one of the Scandinavian folk influences present in the band’s songwriting, with the playful acoustic guitars beautifully contrasted by the whispering synths and tender leads. With all of this and more, nothing here feels recycled – a huge accomplishment in of itself – and the albums shows a natural, powerful progression and growth in their sound.
The initial frustration felt by Akerfeldt and co. has taken the band on an incredibly exciting journey of new sounds and influences, and here it feels like things have come wonderfully into bloom. One can only hope that they continue whatever formulae they’ve got going here because it sure as hell is working! But then again… ignoring what has worked for them previously is what has helped the band produce one of their best works yet. So sod it, go wherever you want Opeth; we’re all on board with you!
Put simply, ‘Sorceress’ is a stunning record. After 25 years and now with twelve albums, many bands would have fallen down the rabbit hole of producing material that is a shadow of their glory days, just with tenfold the production standard. Opeth, on the other hand, feel like they are still emotionally and sonically growing with every album, all the while maintaining great production values. Opeth is a living example of why progression is only ever a good thing.
- The Wilde Flowers
- Will O the Wisp
- Sorceress 2
- The Seventh Sojourn
- Strange Brew
- A Fleeting Glance
- Persephone (Slight Return)
‘Sorceress’ is out now via Nuclear Blast Records.