Opeth : Sorceress

opeth-sorceress-1024x1024When Mikael Åkerfeldt puts his name to something it’s usually well worth sitting up and paying attention. Now in this particular corner of the CB empire we’ve not always been the biggest fans of Opeth, but have been encouraged of late by their ever increasing evolution away from what is considered “normal”. Now the thing with trying to be progressive is it can be a bit hit or miss, but your take on the route down which Opeth have traveled is dependent on your side of the metal / prog divide.

One thing for sure, you never know quite what you’re going to get. We do have fond memories of 2012’s Storm Corrosion project that Steven Wilson which saw Åkerfeldt go full prog to great effect, so more of that please…

Even if it did leave the extreme metal types scratching their beards.

I guess the thing about being Mikael Åkerfeldt is that you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want. You want to produce a mad-metal album you can, you want to produce a sweeping prog epic you can, if you want to play the Royal Albert Hall..

You get the idea.

So, a new Opeth album, what to expect, why don’t we see what Mikael has to say about it, that should clear things up. “I find that once again we’ve taken a step forward. Or sideways. Or backwards. Somewhere!? It’s different! It’s extremely diverse – and if I may say so myself, extremely good”

“It’s both fresh and old, both progressive and rehashed. Heavy and calm. Just the way we like it. Hopefully there’ll be others around the globe sharing this opinion. It was a joy to make it. A fucking joy to record it, and a sheer joy listening to it”.

So there you go. It’s a step in some direction, and it’s a bit good.

Things start off intriguingly with Persephone, the overture to the album which meanders along with stripped back acoustic simplicity. Here an intricate soundscape is crafted which eases the listener into proceedings, with the haunting female voice adding a lush layer to the work.

One of those “calm before the storm” intros then, innit…

Meander.. meander.. meander.. BANG  – CRASH – WALLOP !!! The track Sorceress opens with a drum fill before kicking off a hammond-esque keyboard line which Jon Lord would be proud of. This then merges and segues into one of those “simple but effective” guitar riffs that you hear and wish you’d thought of. Straight out of the prog-rock old school, simple and effective it may be but the sense of scale is still very much there as Opeth turn all the dials up to “grand”. This is a great introduction to the album (hence its release as a taster single) and if there’s a track on here that will appeal to the broadest section of the rock spectrum then this is it.

Love the vocals too !!

The thing is though, although this is a track that follows on nicely from Pale Communion, it’s just about the last time you can say that about what Sorceress has to offer. This will be the moment the trve Watershed fan sits up and pays attention, but Åkerfeldt is never one to stick in the same place for too long and as an album Sorceress packs in more than its fair share of dark, thematic plot twists and turns. The whole thing is swept along by Joakim Svalberg’s sublime keyboards which permeate everywhere. Personally I think the keyboards are what adds the extra dimension to Sorceress, whether it’s ethereal, dark, oppressive organ music or light, playful piano.

The aforementioned Watershed bore probably won’t like the Wilde Flowers though. This is  another grand track that follows the “70s inspired” prog path that Opeth have wandered down of late. The contrast between the second and third tracks is marked, Sorceress hints at a prog epic that Wilde Flowers delivers, and it’s a taster of what is to come. The variation in style and texture is either the albums greatest strength or it’s greatest weakness depending on your point of view.

If you’re a fan of 70s prog you’re probably going to be a lot more happy with this album than if you’re a fan of extreme metal Opeth. The more you listen to Sorceress, the more rewarding it becomes. Chrysalis sees the band letting rip in an old style stadium rock stylee. It’s not particularly subtle but by god it’s beautifully put together and, for me, one of the highlights on the album. Whether it’s the folky acoustic simplicity of Will O The Wisp or the interstellar grandeur of Strange Brew there’s a lot to love about Sorceress.

And then there’s A Fleeting Glance… If you like Metal Opeth you’re going to LOVE that one.

Greensleeves meets Genesis.

Brilliant.

As someone with a natural inclination to the “prog” side of the prog/metal landscape I think that Åkerfeldt has his summary of the album just about spot on.  Whether you regard Sorceress as a step forwards, backwards or wherever there’s no denying it’s yet another evolution for Opeth, and for me it’s Opeth’s finest work. In places it’s undeniably as dark and heavy as anything they’ve done this decade, but at the same time there are flashes of light that lift this, and Opeth, to another level.

And yes, Mikael was right on another point too, Sorceress is indeed a joy to listen to.