Sorceress Review

artist: Opeth date: 10/04/2016 category: compact discs
Opeth: Sorceress
Released: Sep 30, 2016
Genre: Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal
Label: Moderbolaget
Number Of Tracks: 11
After deeply dividing fans with their last two albums, are Opeth ready to take back the throne of dark progressive metal? "Sorceress" may divide opinions even deeper.
 Sound: 8.5
 Lyrics: 7.5
 Overall Impression: 8
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overall: 7.3
Sorceress Featured review by: UG Team, on october 03, 2016
7 of 7 people found this review helpful

Sound: 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.

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." // 7

Lyrics: 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. // 8

Overall Impression: 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. // 7

- Travis Lausch (c) 2016

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overall: 8.7
Sorceress Reviewed by: rich.bendall, on october 04, 2016
2 of 3 people found this review helpful

Sound: 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. // 10

Lyrics: 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! // 7

Overall Impression: 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. // 9

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