The first few days of fall are here, and that means that the temperature will drop, October is almost here and it’s time to put Opeth’s music back on rotation.
Opeth is in a bit of a weird stage right now, and I do not mean that in a bad way. All metal bands mature in different ways, whether they obtain full intention and control of a sound that they’ve had since the beginning, change their musical direction, or something else completely. Some bands might not mature at all. Opeth is most certainly a band that has gradually been shifting its musical sails, and it has been doing it for a long time.
Starting off with a handful of excellent musicians, Opeth was originally a death metal band with dozens of other influences, most notably black metal and folk music. A major shift in the band left only one original band member: longtime frontman Mikael Akerfeldt. With an influx of new musicians, Akerfeldt had the most influence on the band’s creative direction and decided to change the direction of the band’s sound, gradually making it much softer and much more progressive, resulting in a sound more similar to 70s’ prog bands like King Crimson, Camel and Deep Purple.
With Opeth’s 2008 album Watershed, the band began to shift from death metal to prog rock. This became much more apparent with 2011’s Heritage, an entirely prog rock and experimental album that received a lot of mixed responses. The band followed this with 2014’s Pale Communion, an album that further cemented the new stylistic change Opeth decided to employ.
This brings us to Sorceress, an album which retains most of the past two album’s musical concepts, yet expands them by being both the heaviest and softest of the three most recent albums and better focuses the overall songwriting.
The album opens with “Persephone”, an acoustic instrumental that really sets the album in an unexpected direction. This song is a lot different from the opening instrumental on Heritage by being a lot lighter in tone, giving it an almost romantic feel. There are also some spoken female vocals near the end of the song. A good start altogether, although not as strong of an opening as Pale Communion’s “Eternal Rains Will Come.”
The second song is the title track, “Sorceress”, which is easily my favorite track on the album at the time of this review. This song has a fun, jazzy beginning that is replaced with heavy, almost stoner metal guitar riffs. Martin “Axe” Axenrot’s impressive percussion skills really stand out here. You can tell he comes from a jazz background. The rest of the song follows with very familiar Opethian rises, climaxes, and an organ led interlude.
“The Wilde Flowers” follows, once again starting off with bouncing and playful guitar, bass, and keyboard combinations. In between the climaxing choruses are a few impressive guitar solos before the song ends with a ethereal, Middle Eastern sounding melody, complete with Akerfeldt’s crooning voice over the similarly dazzling guitar accompaniment.
Continuing the album is another acoustic song, “Will O the Wisp,” this one also uncharacteristically optimistic. Although it is ballad-like, the song does a good job in letting Akerfeldt’s voice to shine his and ends with a beautiful guitar solo. The song’s tempo and basic structure is somewhat similar to Blackwater Park’s “Harvest,” although the biggest difference is its much more upbeat tone.
“Chrysalis” re-energizes the album, offering a more rock n’ roll sound and structure that is reminding of “Slither” off of Heritage. Following up the first “Sorceress” is “Sorceress 2” which, instead of the heaviness of the first part, offers another acoustic and ethereal song that feels very light and warm in tone throughout.
“The Seventh Sojourn” is a mostly instrumental song that starts off with a guitar led, Middle Eastern sounding melody that softens into a nice piano solo with Akerfeldt’s singing lightly layered on top, like a hint of icing on angel food cake. At first listen, “Strange Brew” sounds like it would fit nicely in a later Led Zeppelin album, before it explodes into a frantic prog rock jam session, which then turns into a heavy and bluesy classic rock offering before quietly fizzing out. An intriguing piece that truly fits its name.
“At a Glance” was very odd to listen to at first, greeting the listener with Akerfeldt’s voice hitting higher notes than usual and backed by Joakim Svalberg’s harpsichord. Longtime member Martin Mendez’s surprisingly groovy bass-lines also stand out here. The song erupts into an epic chorus that allows it to end on a high note that gives me chills when I hear it.
“Era” is the final epic song before it is closed out by “Persephone (A Slight Return).” It starts out with an organ and piano duo that sounds almost medieval before growing into an energetic and upbeat hard rock song which exudes much more energy than the typical Opeth song (which should say a lot). It finally comes to an abrupt end, which is immediately picked up by the same piano/organ duo that marks the beginning of the brief closing track, which has some spoken vocals similar to the first track, and fades out.
After hearing the few singles that were released before the full album, I was in doubt of whether Opeth could pull off yet another prog rock offering. I can definitely say that, although the album has only been out for a day and a half, I can already feel it growing on me at a faster rate than the previous two. This is yet another fantastic collection of songs by Mikael Akerfeldt and Opeth and I can honestly say that I cannot wait to see what direction they will go in their next release.
I’d rate this album an outstanding 9/10.
For more information about Opeth, including music samples and merchandise, visit http://www.opeth.com/