Sound — 10
Sonically, the album is one of the most interesting Opeth albums since "Ghost Reveries," combining the heaviness of mid-'00s Opeth with the prog/jazz/folk inspiration of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Magma and Comus.
It manages the soft-hard dynamics much better in this album, being fairly absent from its predecessor, and kept my attention for it's entire running time (an achievement in itself).
As Fredrik Akesson suggested in numerous pre-release interviews, the guitar sound of "Sorceress" is much heavier than the previous two albums. Songs like "Chrysalis," "Era" and title track "Sorceress" show the guitars working alongside Joakim Svalberg's Hammond organ, strongly echoing Deep Purple, making for a surprisingly heavy sound. Certainly, Akesson's suggestion of a "stonery" vibe is present on the title track but "Chrysalis" and "Era" pick up quite an impressive pace, sounding almost NWOBHM inspired at times.
Juxtaposed alongside these heavier tracks, which much come as a welcome relief to many old Opeth fans (despite the lack of growling), are a number of really beautiful acoustic tracks such as "Will O the Wisp," "Sorceress 2" and "The Seventh Sojourn." "The Seventh Sojourn" touches on the psychedelic vibes present in previous Opeth songs like "Atonement" off of "Ghost Reveries" and "Will O the Wisp" clearly echoes "Aqualung" era Jethro Tull.
Alongside the more clearly defined heavy and soft songs are one or two really interesting tracks, namely "Wilde Flowers" and "Strange Brew." The first time I heard "Wilde Flowers," the final single released before the album itself, I encountered a number of mixed emotions, feeling pretty cold to the first half but adoring the second half which sounded unlike anything Opeth had ever put to tape before. Now, after listening to it within the context of the album I can assert that it might be becoming one of my favourite Opeth songs of all time with its hard driving first half following on excellently from "Sorceress" and its superb second half just taking my breath away.
"Strange Brew" sounds a lot like many moments encountered on "Ghost Reveries," especially with its disheartened vocals and jazzy chords. At one point it features what I would argue are some of Mikael Akerfeldt's best vocals ever and the end of the song is gargantuan, centered on a genuinely dark descending riff which might be one of the heaviest points of the album.
Lyrics — 7
I've always had a strange relationship with Mikael Akerfeldt's lyrics. In Opeth's early days I was struck by how eloquently he wrote in a second language, especially on songs such as "Face of Melinda," "Credence," "To Bid You Farewell," "Benighted" etc. Many of the lines were naive but really quite sweet and endearing. To me, they felt honest and quite personal at times!
I've noticed that ironically, as Mikael's voice has improved and his performance has become more and more confident that my appreciation of his lyrics has lessened somewhat.
I put this wholeheartedly down to the fact that it is much easier to make lyrics sounds good when you only have a few moments of clean singing in each song! Finding inspired vocal lines with a clear voice and making it work with lyrics can be difficult at the best of times and Mikael doesn't make it easy for himself with the complexity of his themes.
However, despite one or two moments of "hmmm, that's a bit of a crap line" I found his lyrics on this album much better than the lost two!
The lyrics to "Wilde Flowers" and "Will O the Wisp" are particular high points, with the former characterised by a truly wonderful refrain "I'm not waiting, I'm tired of waiting."
Vocally in general, Mikael's performance is off the charts and almost certainly the best singing he's put to record. Amazing harmonies litter the album, echoing the more inspired moments on "Pale Communion," and his more powerful moments bring the big shouty bit in "Famine" to mind.
All in all, it's not the most inspired vocals you're ever going to here, but it fits the music and with music like this I can let it that go!
Overall Impression — 9
So it's been over two years since Opeth's last album the "Pale Communion," the only album in their discography which has ever left me feeling a cold. Sure, "Heritage" was a shock to the system after Watershed but there was enough dynamic shifts to keep me interest and eventually satisfied. "Pale Communion" by comparison I felt was too simple in its overly light tone. Lyrically it had several dark moments but it still sounded like it was being played by a strange super-group comprising of CSNY, Santana and Comus. In other words, I was nervous about the coming of sorceress. Would it present a return to heaviness? The question of growling of course entered my mind, especially after purported rumours of a heavier direction.
Well, after purchasing the album this morning (and listening to it non-stop for the majority of said morning) I'm happy to confirm that this album has not disappointed. Far from it. In fact, I'd go as far as to suggest that this album is Opeth's best for a long, long time.
In fact, i'd go as far as to say that this album is the best they've put out since "Ghost Reveries." It manages to perfectly capture all of the things I love about Opeth, dark heavy riffs, beautiful acoustic guitar passages, Mikael's gorgeous voice, soft-hard dynamics. It's all there and executed with the precision of their tried, tested and masterful hand.