Opeth have always been a group associated with the word “innovation”. Formed in Stockholm, 1990 the band has been known for their unique sound incorporating extreme metal and elements of prog rock, jazz, fusion while constantly reinventing themselves with each passing record. Starting with the now classic, Orchid. Released in 1995, Opeth have managed to stay relevant for over 25 years, maturing as a band and belting out 10 more phenomenal albums that adorn the shelves of ardent vinyl collectors and the average music consumer alike. Back in 2011, the band caused quite a stir following the release of their 10th Studio album, Heritage. Opinions regarding the record were largely polarized, as die hard Opeth fans distanced themselves from the new sound that the band was pursuing primarily due to the absolute lack of growled vocals and extreme metal elements, while others embraced the new sound, calling it a bold step forward. 2014’s follow up, Pale Communion also garnered somewhat polarized reviews, but was generally much more well received than Heritage. Mikael Akerfeldt, the front man and creative nucleus of the band has always been focused on creating music that speaks to the soul, rather than focusing on technicalities, a tradition he has maintained for 11 albums. Sorceress, is no exception.
Persephone – The album kicks off with a soothing acoustic intro, dual finger picked guitars gradually build up and sustain a melody while in the later part of the track we get to hear a recital which serves as a form of prelude to the lyrical content in the later part of the album.
Sorceress – Starting off with an unusual synth riff and transcending into drop tuned guitar chugs, the track marks Opeth’s first venture into down tuning and is arguably the heaviest track of the album. Akerfeldt’s baritone vocal range seems perfect and in line with the flow of the song, complementing the riffs beautifully until the track eases down for a proggy midsection, which followed by a verse breaks into the outro. A solid track with a lot of ambitious elements.
The Wilde Flowers – Reminding one of some of the riffage used in 2014’s Pale Communion, a more conventional track, the third number off the album feels like a relatively straightforward song until a few minutes in. A strong synth melody carries the main riff into the midsection. Fredrik Akesson really shines as a guitar player on this track ripping out flashy solos with some of his trademark bends and stretches. The track is concluded by another soft section building on vocal harmonies which suddenly becomes engulfed by a wall of riffs in a classic Opeth fashion.
Picture Courtesy: Stuart Wood
Will O’ The Wisp – The second single released off the album and the most well received by far. Will O the Wisp is a dreamy Opeth track oddly reminiscent Blackwater Park Era’s Harvest while also containing some classic Jethro Tull influences, which clearly show throughout the track. A relatively simple song which is thoroughly carried by a beautiful melody complemented by Akerfeldt’s brilliant vocals.
Chrysalis – Another powerful track, this track marks Opeth’s complete departure from their Original sound. Bludgeoning guitar riffs and powerful drums kick off the number while moving on to showcase Akesson’s superb solo and new Keyboardist Joakim Svalberg’s synth work, which was prominently featured in the very first teaser of the album. Blending in well with the new sound of the album, Chrysalis feels like yet another reinvention of Opeth while sounding completely new.
Checkout The Title Track ‘Sorceress’ Below:
Sorceress 2 – The sixth track off the album is a clean, calm number yet again sounding very fresh compared to Opeth’s past catalogue while being oddly reminiscent of all things Opeth. An articulated acoustic guitar melody carries the song while we hear Akerfeldt’s tranquilizing vocals which create an incredibly pleasant atmosphere. It is the shortest song on the album barring the Intro and Outro tracks.
The Seventh Sojourn – The freshest track on the entire album. The Seventh Sojourn is largely instrumental piece crafted amidst oriental melodies and tasty Afro-Cuban percussion, some might recall the use of such percussion back in Heritage, courtesy of Peruvian percussionist Alex Acuña. This track feels unlike anything Opeth has done before, a completely new approach for the band. Although whether it fits the overall aesthetics of the record might be debatable for some.
Strange Brew – By this point, all the previous tracks of the album already grow in on the listening experience as a whole, and then this track kicks in. This is Opeth at their absolute progressive peak, starting off softly in an acoustic section and then breaking into a proggy barrage of riffs and drum fills, then cooling down a bit while Akesson lends some guitar licks to the song giving it an even more odd structure and feel, additionally the soft outro feels out of place with the rest of the song, however it leads one to conclude that the track has been quite aptly titled. “A strange brew” indeed.
A fleeting Glance – Giving off a very lightweight vibe the track starts off with yet another acoustic intro breaking into a very peppy synth jig with Akerfeldt noodling vocals over them, almost in a playful and childlike fashion. The drumming that follows also fits in really well with the context of the track, giving it an overall folk-rock feel. The mid-section is neatly broken up into some riffage reminiscent of earlier tracks such as “River” and “Haxprocess” but then in an element of surprise turns into a completely different direction. Overall, an upbeat song.
Era – The last full length song on the record, the track starts off very softly once again breaking into some heavy riffage but in a manner quite unlike conventional Opeth, it concludes that they have strayed far off from their original sound and this element shines throughout the track, the tonality, the overall structure of the song feels quite unlike Opeth. This track is outshined by the presence of other phenomenal tracks on the album, by comparison it is blunt. Although in an album context it does serve a purpose.
Persephone (Slight Return) – The final track of the record starts off from where Track 1 had started off. Although not meant to be interpreted as an individual track it serves as a form of closure, effectively sealing the deal on this rollercoaster of a record.
Picture Courtesy: Stuart Wood
Opeth started to sound different following the release of Heritage which was mixed by Steven Wilson, notably opting for a warmer, more organic sound. This pinnacle was reached in 2014’s Pale Communion which was a pleasantly well produced album. However, Sorceress fails to deliver in that regard. Although it sports an incredibly bass heavy mix, quenching the thirst for heaviness desired by long time Opeth fans, it doesn’t sound as good compared to Opeth’s recent work, almost bordering on being muddy at times. The drums are loud and compressed, and added to the bass tracks produces an incredible low end presence, often at the expense of other instruments, after listening to the album through a setup that has a relatively flat response, the low end simply comes out as being MASSIVE. Although this might not be such a deterrent factor for a lot of listeners out there, added to the fact that the band had originally intended it to sound this way.
Sorceress, is an amazingly well done record. It is heavy, progressive, fresh and has some great moments and nuances throughout the course of the entire record. Arguably Opeth’s best output in recent years, compared to records like Heritage and Pale Communion, Sorceress effectively concludes the birth of the new Opeth. A complete reinvention of their sound while still retaining classic Opeth elements. Yet another stellar record added to their impressive catalogue spanning 26 years.
The album quite deservingly gets an 8.5 out of 10.
Written By: Nilanjan Mukherjee (Guest Writer)