Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Reviewed By Chris Gibbs
Before we go any further, and regardless of what the gorgeous yet brutal artwork by regular contributing artist Travis Smith might imply, there are no death growled vocals on the new Opeth record, Sorceress. Once upon a time, I adored Opeth. I fell in love with them in ’99 when I was blown away by “Godhead’s Lament” and for me, Still Life is without a doubt the single greatest record the band has ever produced, and it still receives plenty of air time.
After four consecutive and untouchable records from what I consider to be the classic Opeth line-up of vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt, guitarist Peter Lindgren, drummer Martin Lopez, and bassist Martin Mendez, things took a turn with the full time addition of a keyboardist on Ghost Reveries, followed by several line-up changes, spiralling into even weirder and progressive, yet still extreme territory with Watershed. This all culminated in something we all never saw coming.
I have mentioned that I do like the last two Opeth records, Heritage and Pale Communion for what they are - good progressive rock music - but not because they’re Opeth records. This brings me to their 12th full-length, Sorceress, which again I do like but just where it sits amongst its two predecessors I’m sure as this is so far removed from anything Opeth have ever done. There are enough identifiable acoustic and guitar picking moments that you just know who you’re listening to, but that aside, psychedelic head trip here we go.
At times, this is definitely the heaviest Opeth have sounded since Watershed, but do not let that comment mislead you as this is a more classic, '70s inspired heavy. Excluding the flamenco driven introduction, “Persephone”, the title track starts off like some early '90s video game before launching into one thick, fat, chugging heavy metal riff and groove. Mikael is on point vocally and shows us some extremely powerful singing, almost screaming, painting a vivid image of some lass that has left a very foul taste in his mouth thanks to his scathing lyrics.
The song writing in general has shifted up a few gears as the tempo on display much of the time is upbeat and at times, fast. See the blistering solo work of “The Wilde Flowers” including the ending riff fest and double bass work. The seven minute “Chrysalis” and almost nine minute, aptly titled “Strange Brew”, the latter of which was co-written with guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, are absolute highlights. Both show off Opeth’s and in particular Mikael’s love affair of all things classic progressive rock with blazing guitar and keyboard/organ solo trade-offs, time changes and just straight up rock out moments.
While there is definitely some filler contained within the 11 tracks across Sorceress, and it does at times very much sound like an era long gone by, Opeth do still manage to sound pretty original and unique and will continue to be a powerful musical force. Granted, this is not the same band and I am under no illusions it ever will be, but they do play progressive music after all and have done just that for 25 years.