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Opeth - "Sorceress" (CD)

Opeth - "Sorceress" CD cover image

"Sorceress" track listing:

1. Persephone
2. Sorceress
3. The Wilde Flowers
4. Will O The Wisp
5. Chrysalis
6. Sorceress 2
7. The Seventh Sojourn
8. Strange Brew
9. A Fleeting Glance
10. Era
11. Persephone (Slight Return)

Reviewed by on September 20, 2016

"...if you love Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and Camel, well then you've got a serviceable or even great album with “Sorceress.” If you love Opeth, then the disc is more problematic, with clear highs and lows from a band that's done better."

Well, here we are, a third album since the great Opeth division and the fan base fractured in half. You probably want some illumination about what side I'm on to know whether you need to go into raged-out keyboard warrior mode or not. Let me clear this up from the get-go.

If you are the sort of person who has ever accused someone of not being a “true Opeth fan” because they didn't like “Heritage” or “Pale Communion,” you can probably stop reading now. I'm not interested in the slightest in achieving or maintaining “true fan” status – I just want to hear music that's awesome and not hear music that's shit, and if that makes me a false fan, then its a badge I wear with pride.

That being said, in order to really give this a solid chance, I'm going to look at “Sorceress” from two separate angles: how it stacks up as an Opeth album, and how it ranks just simply as music completely separate from the band and its history.

Right off the bat, you can really tell the change in direction the band has taken if you compare the two minute “Persephone” intro track to the two minute “Coil” intro track from “Watershed,” the last album to be of the heavy variety. This intro has such a completely different tone, even with the total lack of heaviness present on both songs, and in the past this would have led into some truly crushing music. This time around we start with something very simple and minimalist, setting the flavor for a very toned down album; both on the music side and the production side. One of my biggest complaints is the oddly washed out quality to the sound on the mixing front on all the tracks, whether they are heavy or soft.

What's that, did I say heavy tracks? Yeah, there's actually some heaviness here. Now don't get all excited – there's not a hint of death metal anywhere, but there's hard rock that crosses the line into classic metal, like the chugging guitar riff on the title track. “Chrysalis” is again heavier on the guitar tone while staying in the psychedelic rock realm on all other fronts, flirting with bringing back the extreme side while never actually committing to it.

If you heard the advance tracks, you might have been under the impression that “Will O The Wisp” is the most soft offering here – it's not. Several of the tracks feature extended segments that are even more toned down than that, like a three minute stretch of “The Wilde Flowers” or most of “Sorceress 2.” That track's acoustic strumming and odd vocal style from Mikael (like a cross between a whisper and sort of cheesy soft croon) in particular really had me wishing for anything darker sounding.

Out of nowhere a sitar shows up on “Seventh Sojourn” for a interesting Middle Eastern feel. Props to the guys for trying something different, although with how restrained the track is, it feels like there should be something else in there making this a more exciting listen. Imagine if the Swedish crew had used these sounds for three or four minutes, then returned them into a heavier version that still used the same melody from the sitar. The Opeth of old could have absolutely knocked out of the park a proggy, jazzy rendition of Myrath or Arkan, but alas it wasn't to be. The ending 4:30 – 5:50 segment of this oddball track is then just straight up throwaway, with pointlessly repetitive soft piano strokes while Akerfeldt whispers some nonsense.

“Strange Brew” meanders for two minutes before a frantic and crazed psychedelic bit hits that's completely disorienting, and I mean that in a good way. The album finally offers something both truly dark and heavy here, even without the growls. It's the first time I've legitimately been forced to take notice and care about anything I was hearing from Opeth in a decade. This track has the full-force experimentation of the weirder elements from “Watershed,” doing truly bizarre things with vocals, tempo changes, style shifts, and more. Shorten that pointless two minute intro and you've got the best instance of Mikael channeling his '70s side so far.

Next up, “A Fleeting Glance” and “Era” both follow the formula of starting out soft and then bringing in heavier riffs that strongly bring to mind a classic Opeth sound, minus the harsh vocals and with the odd pitches Mikael has been using with his voice all across the disc. All in all, not a bad way to end the album before the minute long “Persephone (Slight Return)” outro that doesn't really serve a purpose.

It's difficult, as a fan of nearly 20 years now who once considered Opeth to be the best band in the world, to divorce my perception of the group as it was from what is has become today. To be properly fair and balanced after several listens through, I asked myself: how would I feel if this album came from a band that wasn't Opeth? Would my analysis be the same if this was the new Nocturnalia or Ghost release? Would I have felt the same if it had hit my inbox as a review request from a '70s prog rock style band I'd never heard before?

Taking the time to really examine the sound and going for yet another listen, I've come to solid conclusion on that front. Whether this would have come from a new entity never heard before or instead from my beloved band going a different direction, the end rating would still be the same: this is alright, but not amazing. It's got great songs and incredibly skippable songs, and as a whole it neither revolutionizes prog rock nor metal.

So here's the bottom line: if you love Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, and Camel, well then you've got a serviceable or even great album with “Sorceress.” If you love Opeth, then the disc is more problematic, with clear highs and lows from a band that's done better.

Highs: "Strange Brew" does some fantastic things, and both "A Fleeting Glance" and "Era" have some solid heaviness

Lows: A washed out sound with an overly-toned down direction lead to a frustratingly uneven and uninteresting listen at time

Bottom line: Opeth offers up a very odd and uneven listen on this third album since the Great Schism.

Rated 3 out of 5 skulls
3 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)