Opeth - Sorceress (Nuclear Blast)

Surrender, as Opeth’s Sorceress lures you in…
Release Date: 
30 Sep 2016 (All day)

Surrounded by anticipation and curiosity, Opeth are set to release their twelfth studio album on September 30. Deviously known as Sorceress, the latest offering from the ever-unpredictable Swedish progressive rock group has a decidedly vintage musical aesthetic that delivers eleven highly diverse tracks.

This album is complex, emotive and sensual but from the outset, one has to reconcile that Sorceress isn’t musically heavy in a traditional sense. Rather, Opeth have created a fascinatingly excellent, moody prog rock album that doesn’t compromise on technical prowess or compositional complexity. Longer tracks such as The Wilde Flowers slide captivatingly through several different movements, between serene, energetic, mournful, chaotic and foreboding. A very convincing gypsy-caravan-spiritualist soundscape is instrumentally narrated in The Seventh Sojourn as it moves between mystical themes, exotic advancement and choral epiphany.

This album took a few plays for me to lock into it, so I’d claim it’s the kind of album that is easy to dismiss at a first listen but really does grow on you, like most outstanding prog albums. Sorceress indeed lured me in, leaving me with questions after each play, and begging to be reconsidered, even intellectualised. The pairing of song titles, such as Sorceress and Sorceress 2, and the matching short intro and outro Persephone and Persephone (Slight Return) tantalisingly suggest of some kind of meta-narrative across the album’s highly individual tracks but this really doesn’t seem supported musically or lyrically. Sorceress listens through a bit disjointed, though the consistent vintage musical prerogative and slightly misanthropic lyrical gestures ties it together, and some listeners may embrace this unpredictability track-to-track. There is a bit of a one-dimensional feminine ‘object-Other’ to the ‘bad-side-of-love’ theme of Sorceress but I find this in keeping with the seventies’ vibe and its apparent that the ‘sorceress’ is a concept or a zeitgeist rather than a physical woman, present or historical. However, the primary journey Opeth undertake on this album is musical and the thematic structure does appear to be something of a coathanger upon which to drape their various sonic excursions into decades past.

The eleven tracks on Sorceress are so diverse, from slower acoustic hippy-nostalgic numbers such as Will O The Wisp to more robust, sexier songs like title track Sorceress which stands as the most seductive track on this ‘album about Love’ for me. Sorceress is likely to have a broad range of appeal and listeners will likely form their own opinion as to what is good or bad on this release. In my opinion, I found the thicker guitars and faster-paced drumming on tracks such as Chrysalis, Strange Brew and Era more captivating. In particular, the menacing Sabbath-reminiscent tone on Chrysalis rendered it one of the darker tracks,and the soloing was practically tear-jerking. I felt on these tracks that Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals were strong and convincing and lyrically Chrysalis’ theme of renewal and moving on was delivered on a decidedly Kafka-esque level.

Speaking of historical re-enactment, Opeth breathed life into Sorceress at Welsh vintage-cult Rockfield Studios, the renowned recording venue of Queen, Judas Priest, and Rush among others. Sorceress is, however, greater than simply Opeth playing dress-ups to imitate their musical idols. True, in some ways many of the tracks on Sorceress romanticise the general sound of seventies classic prog rock but in doing so magnify its most impressive elements.