If there’s one thing that’s clear when it comes to Swedish Metal pioneers Opeth, it’s that¬†they are a changeable beast, unwilling to stand still inside of trend or mainstream bandwagons. Since the daring one-two punch of Deliverance and Damnation, with their light and darkness approach, through to¬†2004’s Ghost Reveries, showcasing¬†a modern, stylized feel, the band have slowly unraveled¬†their sound, spotlighting individual elements and characteristics to great effect. In recent years,¬†the band have relinquished Mikeal Akerfeldt’s death growls in favor of a 70’s prog-influenced song-craft. The new direction received mixed reactions with Opeth purists, and with this in mind comes the band’s twelfth studio album¬†Sorceress.
We are ushered in with the delicate, medieval tones of Persephone, a lilting two minute prelude which finds elegant guitars mixing with spoken word to longing effect. Sorceress¬†then¬†begins with a towering, funky organ riff leading into monolithic¬†heaviness. Its a unique starter and contains enough commercial savvy to please both fans new and old. The Wilde Flowers¬†stomps away, a catchy refrain takes us into a lush guitar-laced midsection, before building back up to melodic anarchy for the finale. Akerfeldt’s clean vocals loom tall and are a defining factor in anything post-Heritage¬†being labelled ‘Prog’. He provides many a highlight though, helping the¬†classic rock tones of Strange Brew¬†and Chrysalis¬†sound fantastically bluesy, the latter charging through its 7 minutes armed with dueling solos of the highest order. Maybe this is not what most would want from an Opeth record, but it proves successful here and a middle finger to anyone faulting the bands new approach.
The band continue deep into prog-land with the twists and turns of¬†Era,¬†showing off driving tempos and massive hooks. Elsewhere the back to back combo of Sorceress 2 and The Seventh Sojourn¬†feel like the soundtrack to a lucid dream. The Jethro Tull-folk of the former showing gentle grace, while the latter harnesses¬†Zepplein-esque orchestration for an exotic, cinematic vibe. Recorded at legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales, the production allows for everything to slide into place smoothly, the album echoing the legendary music that was shaped there.
What Sorceress lacks in progression from previous two records, Heritage and Pale Communion, it more than makes up for in songwriting and class. There is still a contrast, between sprawling epics and fragile folk, as demonstrated on the reflective¬†Willow O The Wisp¬†and previously mentioned¬†The Wilde Flowers. Psychedelic pop elements even creep in with the waltz-piano of A Fleeting Glance,¬†showing that while Opeth may have found a familiar path to tread over the past few albums, that they still have the ability to display inventiveness and charm. Overall,¬†Sorceress is not going to please everyone, but after filling the Royal Albert Hall¬†and with Top 20 albums either side of the Atlantic, one would assume Akerfeldt and crew don’t mind all that much.