Artist: Opeth

Album Title: Sorceress

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date of Release: 30 September 2016

I debated long and hard about whether I should review this album. Normally, I try to shy away from writing reviews of albums that I’m not so keen on because I like to focus on the music and those albums which I like and believe are worthy of spending my precious spare time writing about. However, with Opeth, I felt compelled to pen something.

Let me start by saying very clearly that I have never really been an Opeth fan, despite somehow having almost the entire back catalogue in my possession. Try as I might, the music has never really clicked with me whatever the chosen approach of Akerfeldt and co. ‘But this is Opeth’, I keep telling myself, ‘everybody loves Opeth, so I mustn’t give up’. And I haven’t. Yet.

My favourite album, if such a one exists, is probably ‘Still Life’. However, this does not mean that I favour the heavier, death metal-infused days of the band. It just means that there are a couple of tracks on that record that stand out more than others. That and the fact that it was my first exposure to the band.

Indeed, to underline this point, I did find myself singing the praises of Opeth’s last full length, ‘Pale Communion’ to a certain degree. It found itself nestled in my top 20 albums of 2014, much to my own surprise. There were some stronger compositions and engaging melodies to be heard and I began to wonder whether I was beginning to fall under the subtle but strong Opeth spell. Thus, I was, for the first time, looking forward to a new album, eager to find out what they had in store next.

The answer is ‘Sorceress’, album number twelve in the Swedish band’s increasingly lengthy career than now adds up to over a quarter of a century. Given what I’ve said above, I have listened to ‘Sorceress’ frequently and without any bias or any preconceived ideas about what an Opeth album should be or how it should sound.

To describe the music as succinctly as possible, it follows the rough blueprint of both ‘Heritage’ and ‘Pale Communion’, making it the third album to feature a much more overt 70s-inspired progressive rock approach where more analogue and authentic instrumentation has been used to create the sounds and textures of the music. However, there are moments of heavier music weaved within this aural tapestry and it is fair to say that whilst it sounds unequivocally Opeth, it certainly doesn’t tread the exact same path of previous albums. I don’t think Opeth will ever do this to be frank.

Written over the course of six months but recorded in just twelve days at Rockfield Studios in Wales, the most noticeable thing with ‘Sorceress’ is the even more pronounced organic and ‘live’ feeling that the record has, as well as a sense of rawness and honesty in places. This is a very nice asset and for that, the band should be complimented. The adeptness of each of the musicians is also without question; here is a band made up of musicians that could probably play anything and everything with consummate skill and style. This prowess shines through on ‘Sorceress’.

Photo credit: Stuart Wood

Photo credit: Stuart Wood

Be that as it may, I have to now focus on the music. And, on the subject of the music itself, after lots of effort, I have to say that it just doesn’t do anything for me. Ambivalence is perhaps the most apt adjective regarding my feelings towards this record and I’m genuinely disappointed to report this. I have listened and listened in the hope that it might click with me and that I would discover that sweet epiphany. Sadly, it hasn’t happened.

The opening track, ‘Persephone’ is gorgeous. The melodies are sublime and I instantly love this rich, almost romantic-sounding acoustic guitar-led composition. At this point, I am very excited and cannot wait to hear more. Unfortunately, nothing within the ensuing ten songs even comes close to the opener and, if anything, that’s what I find the most disappointing more than anything else.

The title track follows however, and I’m immediately less smitten. The deliberately fuzzy tones are awkward-sounding to these ears and in spite of some incredible musicianship, I’m unmoved. The doom-esque heavy riff and associated stomping groove is a very nice touch which I warm to a little more whilst Akerfeldt’s clean vocals are nicely deployed. This is arguably one of the better tracks on the record and it has grown on me to a certain extent with repeated listens.

‘The Wilde Flowers’ takes over and, to be honest, it just plods on for close to seven minutes with little on offer that engages me. The instrumental prowess is clearly present but the melodies don’t do much for me. Again, it does get better the more I listen, but nowhere enough to encourage me to return on a frequent basis.

And so the pattern has been set. ‘Sorceress’ is an album comprised of sprawling 70s-inspired prog rock, lovingly created, expertly executed and beautifully produced. Unfortunately, to this jaded hack, I find the whole thing rather dull and uninspiring. I’m not for one second saying that this is a bad record because to say such a thing when confronted with so much evidence to the contrary would be foolish in the extreme.

I’m occasionally pulled from my thoughts by a succulent and moody guitar solo or, as in the case of the latter stages of ‘Chrysalis’, a properly engaging melody that speaks to me more forcefully than elsewhere.

However, too many of the melodies in general don’t do anything for me. The sounds, the textures, the atmospheres – for the most part, they leave me cold and, dare I say it, rather bored. Too much of the record is too dreamlike and whimsical for my tastes, meaning it just floats by unremarkably.

‘Sorceress 2’ is a fine example of this, as is the bulk of ‘Will O The Wisp’; neither register with me and I suddenly realise that they have finished and I’m listening to a different song. Equally, ‘The Seventh Sojourn’ is a song that I would skip if I was paying sufficient attention.

I couldn’t care less about the ‘where’s the growled vocals’ arguments or the ‘they shouldn’t be called Opeth anymore’ whining. As far as I’m concerned, these arguments are academic and pointless. I simply and regrettably don’t engage with the music that I am being offered here

‘Sorceress’ will certainly appeal to a large number of fans of the band, those fans who are capable of accepting the fact that Opeth are well and truly a different band when compared with the early days. The content is simply too good for this to not be the case. Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say that I’ve given ‘Sorceress’ a decent go but it simply isn’t for me. Maybe Opeth will convince me with lucky album number thirteen? I hope so, but I seriously doubt it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhqijfqecvA]

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