Sorceress review by Opeth

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  • Released: Sep 30, 2016
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 8.2 (60 votes)
Opeth: Sorceress
6

Sound — 7
A new release by Opeth used to be one of the most celebrated things in the metal community for ages, perhaps even since they released their sophomore album, "Morningrise," in 1996. With every album since "Blackwater Park" adding more and more progressive rock influence, the band's sound became increasingly interesting, reaching their creative zenith with the albums "Ghost Reveries" and "Watershed," two absolute classics in both the progressive metal and death metal genres. With the release of the decidedly more progressive-rock influenced "Heritage," as close of a tribute to '70s prog as we've gotten in ages, many fans felt betrayed and abandoned by the fact that the band had completely left out the death metal sound altogether (this reviewer excluded, since I loved that particular record). And even though "Pale Communion" was a bit heavier, it still left a sour taste in the mouths of those waiting for something that wasn't a '70s prog-rock tribute. In the months preceding the release of "Sorceress," their twelfth studio record to date, the band had spoken at length about how this album would be a bit heavier, more diverse, and (quite repeatedly) about Mikael's abandonment of death metal vocals.

I'm going to cut right to the chase. If you didn't like the band's transformation into a '70s prog tribute, whatever your reasons may be, this album will not do anything to change your opinion. This album is a clear progression from the last two, and the band shows no signs of changing back to their old style to appease anyone.

And in fact, the band may have broken some of their promises about a "heavier" record, with a lot of the songs relying on acoustic guitars and keyboards. In fact, there isn't anything that could be considered "heavy" for at least several minutes on the record, as it opens with an acoustic guitar-led intro in "Persephone," and the first minute of the title track is an electric piano/drum duet. The first guitar riffing you hear "Sorceress" definitely sounds like something tuned to a low A or punped through an octave effect, but before you get the impression that I'm about to tell you that this has gone back to something resembling metal, the fact is, it's still a blues-y prog-rock riff. The title track is mostly a decent tune, with some really cool arrangements before the solo, and the solo itself is really good. But... for some reason, the track falls a little flat to me. It's a bit repetitive and it just doesn't sound like Opeth at its most creative. "The Wilde Flowers" follows, with a bit of an improvement over the title track's formula... but it feels like just that: a formula. It's nearly seven minutes of Doors-esque vocals, stomping riffs, the expected Hammond Organ and Mellotron samples, and shreddy wah guitar solos. All of it is expertly played, and I can't even fault the writing here, but there's something that seems so formulaic about the first two proper songs on this album.

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Jethro Tull's "Will O The Wisp" follows, with Martin Barre's acoustic strumming and Ian Anderson's pained vocals taking center stage throughout th... wait, sorry, I forgot we were talking about Opeth! This tune could have easily fit on any of Tull's '70s folk-rock albums (think "Songs From the Wood" through to "Stormwatch"), but it also harks back to other incredible Opeth tracks like "Harvest," and I'd dare say this is the first song from the album that really caught my attention. Had it been released on any of their predominantly death metal albums, I feel this song would have gotten a lot more praise than it will on this album, but it's still a really beautiful tune to listen to. "Chrysalis" opens with the kind of headbanging riff and louder vocal that may convince a few of the prog-Opeth naysayers that their favourite band still has a spark left in them, and it really is an insanely good quality track. This is easily the best track on the album, and it would have fit perfectly alongside anything from "Ghost Reveries" and "Watershed."

"Sorceress 2" explores the themes from the title track in an acoustic setting. It feels a bit filler-ish, though and I feel it would have benefitted from being cut by about a minute or so. Mostly-instrumental track "The Seventh Sojourn" returns us to the sort of folk-prog Opeth feel that people who've listened to "Heritage" will find familiar. There are only brief sections with vocals near the end, and this really does feel like another "Opeth-lite" sort of track that could have also been cut a bit shorter and improved the album. "Strange Brew" begins with a sort of echo-drenched "Hours of Wealth" style, before coming in with a crazy jazz-fusion solo section. The track goes back and forth throughout, and it honestly feels like a couple of really good sections that didn't really fit together, kind of making the final product sound very disjointed.

Prog is known to have a lot of abrupt shifts, but there's usually a reason for the rhyme, and I don't feel it on "Strange Brew." "A Fleeting Glance" is a very theatrical-sounding piece with a couple of really cool riffs and some nice vocal work, but it did nothing to catch my attention. "Era" follows, with a deceptively quiet intro preceding some of the most uptempo drumming and riffing on the whole record. This is another one of the better tracks on the album, even if it's not as heavy as "Chrysalis." Closing out the album is the piano ballad "Persephone (Slight Return)." If the title is conjuring up images of wah-drenched guitars and blues riffs, that's where you're wrong, kiddo! It's essentially the Tetris theme song played on piano with some female spoken word over it. It does kind of bookend the album nicely and tidily.

The bonus disc also has two new tracks worth mentioning. "The Ward" is another sort of light-prog/jazz piece for Opeth, but the interplay between the drums and vocal melodies is one of the best things I've heard from Opeth for a long time, and I genuinely feel that this song should have made the main body of the album instead of being relegated to bonus material. "Spring MCMLXXIV" (1974, the year of Mikael Åkerfeldt's birth) is an almost uplifting sort of song for Opeth, something rare in their discography. It's nothing really special otherwise, from a musical standpoint, but worth mentioning. Following this are live renditions of "Cusp of Eternity," "The Drapery Falls" and "Voice of Treason" (its debut performance, no less!) with an orchestra, and they are quite good live renditions.

The playing on the record is as fierce as you'd expect from Opeth, with Mikael Åkerfeldt's and Fredrik Åkesson's guitar playing being very progressive and even shreddy (something I felt was a bit lacking on recent albums), bassist Martín Méndez and drummer Martin Axenrot providing one of the most solid rhythm sections in the genre, and recent addition Joakim Svalberg playing some of the meanest keyboard parts since the 1970s. Fault the music style if you will, but these guys can play! The production, handled by UK producer Tom Dalgety, is also great and dynamic, and is probably the best production the band has had on a record since "Watershed."

Lyrics — 8
Lyrics are one of the biggest constants in Opeth's world, with the themes almost unchangingly being about the predictable topics of devil worship, death, depression, and loss. If you're expecting a happy song on this album, that isn't something you're going to get. The lyrics on the album are exactly what you'd expect from the band, whether it's Mikael proclaiming "I am a sinner and I worship evil/Blood is thinner but you will never know" on the title track, lamenting "When you smother your friendships/And take much more than you need/When you can't keep a secret to yourself/And points to the source of the deed" on "Will O the Wisp," or even appealing directly to stoner metal fans with verses like "There's eternal night in my gaze/I'm cast out and I am not like you/Find my way on through the haze/I'm liquefied in a strange brew."

Mikael's vocal style hasn't really evolved much over the past few albums (besides the lack of death metal growling), but they haven't really needed to. Mikael's chilling vocal style can still reduce a grown man to a trembling mess, and he's still got a great amount of versatility from harder crooning to some of the most gentle vocals he's done in a long while. If you want to hear him do more recent metal growling, he even still commands the style on the live version of "The Drapery Falls" on the bonus disc. In the case of the vocals, as long as you're okay with the lack of death metal growls, this has been one of the few aspects of the band that hasn't needed to evolve, and he's found a way to make it fit well with the style of music they're now playing.

Overall Impression — 7
I always feel it's a little unfair to give my thoughts on an Opeth album so soon after its release, as I usually find myself changing my opinion of an Opeth album completely after several listens, or in some cases, even a few years. But initially, my impression of this album has been that while I've been an avid fan of their prog-rock stylistic shift, and support them wholeheartedly on this venture, this album left a few things lacking. There's some really quality material on this album, and even some songs that, when taken on their own, may serve to bring back a few of the fans that felt abandoned them, but the band hasn't quite perfected the style yet. The jarring shifts in some of the songs, the lack of anything really memorable, and the feeling that the band might be running out of creative steam, all conspire to make me believe that this hasn't been Opeth's best effort in their progressive era, and that I'm still going to maintain that out of the three albums, I still prefer "Heritage" and "Pale Communion" to this. However, I remember how long it took for me to actually enjoy "Pale Communion," and my mind (and yours as well) may change after more listens, and more time to sit with it. I really feel like this album would have been vastly improved if the bonus track "The Ward" had replaced something else from the main body of the record, like "Sorceress 2," which is the closest thing to a pure filler track Opeth has ever released.

So will this album appease the legions of fans that wrote them off after abandoning death metal, after all? Doubt it. But there are songs on here that you'll definitely want to check out if you miss that style, like "Chrysalis." And overall, it is a good record, but it does have some flaws. Note that my overall impression is a 7/10 only because I can't technically rate the album 7.5 on this site. If you were a fan of "Heritage" and "Pale Communion," this album will definitely be right up your alley.

29 comments sorted by best / new / date

    jman99
    I think it is a little bloated. I love the direction, but Pale Communion had a similar style without as many repetitive parts that kind of take you out of the record. I will have to listen to this more to know if I feel the same still. The good parts are very good though.
    travislausch
    Man, you hit the nail on the head with that and expressed exactly what I was trying to say with the review.
    Pretelethal
    To me, the best album since Watershed, easily.. A Fleeting Glance and Spring are in my opinion, some of Opeth's finest pieces of work in their history. A truly great record.
    jasperado
    I really like their new direction, I love death metal but I have never really been a fan of death metal vocals, i just got used to them and i always liked instrumental metal which i call instrumetal better because there isn't the shitty vocals, and unless they are executed really well it just sounds overbearing and cheesy to me and opeth's new direction with the clean just seems a lot more mature and soothing. I dig it a lot and I really love the album cover art, that peacock is beautiful
    logicbdj
    Good, I'm not alone. I hear Death Metal and think... "if only this band could do an instrumental album."
    Lemorick
    After a few listens i start to dig the album a bit more. it has lots of variety and with that being a great thing from a certain perspective, it makes the album fail on another point for me. I don't feel a sort of athmosphere surrounding the whole album as, let's say, Damnation made me feel. Probably the connection between the tracks Perspehone and Sorceress is the closest to that for me. The heartwarming mood that Persephone brings, followed by the mad synths on Sorceress make a really nice transition , but aside from that, I look at this album as good as a whole but with amazing individual tracks. Lyircally there is not much to say, great lyrics arround the usual themes that Opeth usually sing about. I really liked the vocals btw. I think all the singles were released with some attention from the band since they show the how diverse the album really is and so far Sorceress is my favourite track, specially because the instrumental. It really grew on me since the 1st listen. I would rate it as a 7.5/10 and I recommend that you listen to it at least 3 times with some time between them. The album surely grows on the listener and there are certain small details that you'll notice after the 2nd listen
    travislausch
    "I would rate it as a 7.5/10 and I recommend that you listen to it at least 3 times with some time between them." It's really sad that I didn't get much of an opportunity to do that with the review (basically got the album on release day, have a life outside of reviewing albums, and only got to listen to it twice through). As I said, I think it's incredibly unfair to give a concrete opinion of an Opeth album right away, and I'm sure if I listen to it a few more times, I'm going to regret a lot of what I wrote here!
    Lemorick
    The thing for me was that, since I am studying, I have more time to listen to a lot of music. This album was playing while I was studying for my latest exam and after I finished studying as a chill moment. That is why I had time to listen more than once But after the 1st time I didn't really enjoy it that much... It's a matter of tastes but it requires some attention from the listener to get a good view from what it has to offer. I found the review really good, but as you said, with Opeth it takes some time to fully digest the album :p
    bigtimmy
    My two cents: Pale Communion I actually really liked (for the style) but couldn't get into Heritage, even after a few (almost forced listens). I'm yet to hear the full album of Sorceress but from what I'm reading here I'm beginning to think my excitement for Opeth is over. I'll try it out nonetheless. I think that Michael's want to leave Growls out of the picture is fine because his singing is boss, but as good as he is (was) at growls I don't see why the music also has to mellow out because he doesn't want to growl anymore. The clean vocals could emphasise how heavy the music is. A great album idea could be the prog-rock vibe they are going for, but darker and some tracks / elements heavier.
    raininblood321
    I like it. It's good, no doubt about it. but I'm not very interested or invested in new Opeth anymore. These songs don't do much for me, unfortunately.
    blackone666
    Since no one is going to talk about the elephant in the room, here we go. What's with the repetitions, guys? I love Opeth but this album is a rushed mess with some average to good songs here and there. Sorceress 2, The Seventh Sojourn and Era ? Brainfarts.
    TLGuitar
    Isn't all of their music pretty much marred by repetition? I've listened to a bunch of their better known stuff in the past, and couldn't get all that much into it because of the annoyingly unnecessary duplication of bars. It's the same with Iron Maiden for me... Why don't they try to spice up the iterations of the original statement of a melody instead of blatantly duplicating it just to add length to the songs?
    blackone666
    I wouldn't say that repetition is an inherent part of Opeth's music, maybe some of their songs drag a bit too much. It's one of my favourite bands, I can't be objective, sorry.
    TLGuitar
    Well, frankly, the couple of new songs I've just listened to here actually sounded less repetitive than some of Opeth's older stuff I have listened to. Can't give you any specific names because I don't remember, but I got that sense of pointless repetition in this band from a bunch of their classics.
    blackone666
    Sure, I'd say that Cusp of Eternity, The Conjuration and Beneath the Mire are terribly repetitive. On the other hand, you have The Lotus Eater, Heir Apparent and Ghost Of Perdition where the repetitions are obviously there but they serve the song just fine. But yeah you're right, in Watershed (2008) they added some woodwinds and flutes that even with just playing some bits here and there added a new, fresh dimension to the music.
    mkybrat
    Talking about repetition, the last 4 minutes of the song "Deliverance" is the definition of repetitive...but it's actually my favorite part of the song, so I think more often than not the repetitive parts don't hurt the songs much. I just saw them a couple of days ago at Radio City and they only played the end of Deliverance for 2 minutes instead of 4 and I was a little disappointed that they cut it short!
    kmn842
    I haven't paid much attention to the last 2 Opeth releases as they just didn't suit my current musical tastes, but this album seems different. I like it so far, and I think I've already played it more times than both of the previous albums combined.
    redgravegilver
    Opeth now a days honestly sounds 90's swedish prog band worship like Anekdoten and Anglagard so I don't why everyone keeps name dropping 70's prog bands. Those bands are way better at doing this kind of style than Opeth. I thought Pale Communion and this album is decent as I really enjoy some songs but not the album as a whole. I didn't really like Heritage that much. I don't think Opeth will ever surpass Still Life or Ghost Reveries for me both lyrical wise and songwriting wise no matter what style they will do. That said it's always entertaining whenever Opeth releases something because it really gives me a nice sense of schadenfreude watching Opeth fans who wants BWP kind of albums over and over again have a meltdown.
    vect0rial
    As an album it's very good, but I dont feel it as an opeth album. To me they have "lost their escense" and im not talking about the growls and stuff like that, it's like if you listen to them they dont sound like Opeth anymore. Sure bands evolve and that's cool, but the idea is that they keep sounding like the band they're, for example Mastodon; every album of them it's very different but you know that's Mastodon once you listen to it. Anyways I do hope the band is enjoying doing the music they do because in the end that's what really matters, but as for me I will stick to the old stuff xD