Since its inception in 1990, progressive metal band Opeth has released 12 unique and innovative albums, blending genres such as progressive rock, death metal, black metal, and even jazz and classical. Their 12th studio album, “Sorceress,” is no exception to this trend.
This album marks five years and the third album since the band’s controversial switch to a cleaner, lighter sound, leaving the heavy distortion and harsh vocals of their death metal roots behind. Although many fans would like Opeth to return to their old sound, frontman and songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt has made it clear that his personal taste has changed – and so has the direction of the band. That said, Opeth’s metal background remains evident in tracks such as “Chrysalis.”
Opeth’s style change did little to subdue the band’s immense popularity; just one week after its release, “Sorceress” hit top-ten album charts across Europe and became the bestselling hard music record in America.
The album’s 11 tracks total just under an hour. Every song, with the exception of the entirely acoustic “Will O the Wisp,” features guitar and synthesizer passages that complement each other magnificently, a skill Opeth has mastered. The album seamlessly transitions from heavy, chaotic swirls of instrumentals to simpler guitar and vocal parts, and vice versa, without detracting from the flow of the music. This dichotomy is particularly evident in “The Wilde Flowers” which features two acoustic interludes and a particularly complex ending.
Akerfeldt’s vocals stand out. His wide range of styles even includes some harsh vocals, though not the guttural growls of death metal. Each song has a distinct sound while fitting into the overall album. The album flows smoothly and never seems disjointed. All instrumentation and vocals are highly technical and executed flawlessly. The production is clean and features a retro sound that fits the mood. As far as musicianship goes, “Sorceress” ranks high on the band’s overall discography.
Technical mastery aside, music is inherently subjective. Some fans of the band, myself included, feel that “Sorceress” lacks in songwriting and emotion, especially when compared with older albums. “Sorceress” fails to deliver much emotional substance and often seems lackluster.
This album is saved from mediocrity by three songs: “Crystalis,” “Strange Brew,” and “Era.” “Chrysalis” is the heaviest, skillfully situated between two slow, peaceful songs to emphasize its abrasive style. Featuring double bass drumming, and fading out with a guitar solo, it’s clear from this track that Opeth has maintained some metal influence.
“Strange Brew” starts with a soft, jazzy guitar and takes the listener on a nearly nine-minute trip through Opeth’s musical mastery. Call and response lines featuring Akerfeldt’s harsher vocals coupled with drumming, in addition to mystifying guitar and synthesizer tones, make this song my favorite since 2005’s “Ghost Reveries.”
“Era” ends the album on an uplifting note. Arguably the emotional pinnacle of the album, it presents feelings of hope and happiness. The main chorus “The end of an era/One starts anew” can be seen as Opeth’s own style shift and the end of their death-metal era; although the band’s style has changed, it has just begun to explore its new identity.
“Sorceress” is a strong but not outstanding album. Although portions are forgettable, the album is definitely worth a listen. Fans of prog rock will thoroughly enjoy it, and even fans of Opeth’s old style will find parts they like. Time will tell where this album falls in Opeth’s discography and the world of rock and metal as a whole. But one thing is certain, Opeth will continue to perfect its style and make beautiful music for years to come.
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