Review: Opeth | Sorceress [2016]

Opeth: SORCERESS

a review by the Crow.

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Click the image to view the lyric video for the title track, Sorceress

OPENING THOUGHTS

I’ve been disconnected from contemporary music for some time. As with all people, my tastes differ from what others would call the “norm”. That said, I grew up almost without music. At some point, I was introduced to it. And thanks to the people I was around at the time, I started my foray into metal. Opeth wasn’t as popular amongst my circle as one might think, considering how I’ve come to view them as one of my all-time favourite bands. Together with two other acts (whom I might get around to at some point on The Corvid Review), Opeth forms what I consider the holy trinity of “band music”.

And it only helps that they toe a line between metal (my first crush) and what I listen to more than anything else in the world: classical music (sans libretto).

Despite all of the above, I’ve been disconnected from all forms of contemporary music for some time. Let’s just say that when I came across the lyric video for Will O The Wisp, at some point when The Corvid Review was about to become more than a little glimmer in my eye, I knew I’d be coming back to talking about the sort of music that rouses me from my deep slumbers (only ever done it once before, to be honest, and that was some time ago).

Now, to clarify: I’m no musician and have little talent for it. What I am, however, is someone who likes music. And I’ve followed certain bands for some time. For years in the middle, I kept an eye on movements within metal to boot. So, while I may not be able to piece out the specifics of the musical nuance on display, I’m well-equipped to take on albums like these.

When I listen to music of this variety, I usually listen to the albums in full. I consider a well put-together album to be superior to the occasional song here and there. It’s quite a rare thing to find, but Opeth‘s done quite well on that front over the years.


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THOUGHTS REGARDING GENRE

Okay, let’s get one thing out of the way:

Opeth has been on a journey for some time, now. Fourteen year-old me was at first overwhelmed by the ominous, brooding tone of songs like Under the Weeping Moon and Nectar (both of which, I must admit, I listened to following a few repeats of Sorceress), with only uncle Mikael to hold my hand and help me through every now and again. Only a few songs in, though, I realised I had a knack for that kind of sound, no matter what I’d started out with.

But this wasn’t the era of Orchid or Morningrise. This was the era of Deliverance/Damnation. When I came across Opeth, they had just released their first full-length album to feature no death vocals. The previous account of being overwhelmed by their earlier work was in regards to me going back through time and catching up with them from the years leading up to Damnation.

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Post-Watershed, Opeth started to move into newer territory. While certainly a natural progression from the occasional, mellower interjections which appeared in their early work, and peaked in Damnation, this album is most prominently a child of those post-Watershed years.

It all started with 2011’s Heritage. It continued through 2014’s Pale Communion. And finally, we end up here with Sorceress.

The sound in this period of the band’s work is at times reminiscent of folk music; at times attempts at translations from Eastern lands; at times channelings of Åkerfeldt’s favourites; and through it all, ringing in the background, are familiar throwbacks to sounds we’ve come to associate with the band – to remind us that this is, indeed, Opeth.

This is the reason why a movie like Star Wars: The Force Awakens is so structurally similar to the original movie. You cannot just erase that sense of familiarity and not alienate your long-term fans. Opeth has been quite patient with easing those listeners into their new sound – more patient than any other band I know of. But I find that this step might just be the final one.

Contrary to what most might think about this post-Watershed Opeth, Opeth has retained a link to metal throughout… up until now.

What we need to get out of the way is that Opeth is no longer metal. Metal is where Opeth comes from, where Opeth has been for so long, but it’s not where they seem to be going.

And to be quite frank, I love it.

Why should bands always be the same? They shouldn’t. They don’t. They never can. As a writer, my work evolves continuously. Part of the spirit of art is to find new ground upon which to trespass. It’s the same with bands which evolve. Some go mainstream, some do not. I remember some years ago reading that Åkerfeldt was asked a question regarding how fans felt that Opeth had (already, mind you) “sold out”. His answer right now doesn’t even need to be brought up, because the proof is in their recent work.

Perhaps Opeth has become more accessible to people who cannot resolve their tastes with death metal, but what stops them from letting their music become more accessible? 

There are dangers in expecting acts to repeat the same work over and over again. It’s stagnating. And Opeth‘s been on the verge of bursting through the chains of their fold for a long time, now.


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CONTENT

Considering the lyrics I’ve read and have been able to parse, it’s all quite par-for-the-course. It’s not necessarily anything spectacular. The album plays it safe, for all intents and purposes.

Love seems the central theme; despair, anger, the negativity of it all – all the latter of which should be concepts familiar to Opeth fans – are all present. It’s almost the mix of emotions a wronged lover would go through when they’ve invested their affections onto nothing more than a projection of the person in their sights, and it’s all gone fuckup.

Trust uncle Mikael to deliver this message in a fashion that manages to be enthralling.

It’s really an interesting theme to tackle, despite its ever-presence in the realm of music. The one thing that detaches this album from others of its type is that the constant, looming shadow of Opeth‘s past work is there to drive home the darkness which comes with the feelings the songs hint at.

Here are some bits from the notes I took down during my second listen-though of Sorceress:

  • Persephone – Not really much to say other than it’s nice.
  • Sorceress – A perfect bridge between the previous album and this one. It unites both what Opeth has been leading up to and where it’s going without much affront. It was fun trying to figure out whether or not the opening lyrics to the song were a self-reference to the band itself.
  • The Wilde Flowers – A song most post-Watershed, indeed. This track is up there with a few others, showcasing Opeth at the height of its powers during this transition.
  • Will O the Wisp – Damnation, anyone?
  • Chrysalis – Holy crap, is this song amazing, or what? Everything about it works almost perfectly. It’s almost like the track is pulling away further and further from Opeth‘s older work with every passing moment. What an appropriate name for the song, indeed.
  • Sorceress 2 – What a stark contrast to the first part. And why wouldn’t it be? Look after what it comes, after all. It’s slightly reminiscent of so many things at once. This is such a lovely track, is all that can be said.
  • The Seventh Sojourn – Wait. Where are we?! It seems now we’re not just evolving, or crossing time, but space as well. We’re reaching out to lands only just hinted at so far in Opeth‘s lore (see: Atonement). Perhaps there’s more lore out there that we need to be told about?
  • Strange Brew – And we’re back closer to home. It evokes feelings of being told stories by a stranger on a foggy night, perhaps in between pubs… right until it slips back into the strange folky sound that’s been part of the new-Opeth. This one’s certainly a strange brew okay, I’ll show myself out.
  • A Fleeting Glance – And now, we’ve gone from between pubs distanced by foggy streets to good old fashioned taverns, and then the song thrusts us right back through into the modern era with its sounds.
  • Era – Quite fun to let this one take you on a ride, I must say. This is certainly an odd track, considering who’s behind it. This is reminiscent of songs by other bands, but still manages to remain true to Opeth.
  • Persephone (Slight Return) – Well, a nice ending to a nice album, is all I have to say.

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EXECUTION

There’s not really much to say when it comes to Opeth and execution. Each of the members involved in the band (and so many of their past members) are at the apex of their craft.

While (as aforementioned) I am no musician, it doesn’t take one to figure out that the album sounds amazing.

I’m just going to cut this short before I show any signs of gross ignorance and flee the scene after dropping this 10/10 right… here:

10/10


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CLOSING THOUGHTS

Look, Opeth is changing, and they’re making the fact quite clear to us. Let’s take the album for what it is: a collection of music. Let’s not muddy the affair with concerns about what “they used to be” and such.

It’s clear Åkerfeldt’s own influences are permeating the band’s sound, but is that really such a bad thing? It’s clear that all the members are on page with this album (and the two prior). Make no mistake: I’d love for them to do a heavier album, but if this is the direction they continue to go in, I’m happy.

The man below’s having the time of his life, and the spectacular band around him is right along for the ride.

Image from Book of Opeth www.opethbook.com

Perhaps the new sound doesn’t work for everyone; and yes, like all music, it comes down to personal preference.

Sorceress is bold, but isn’t too bold. It’s perfect for what it is. It’s the final step in a journey between Opeth as they have been, and what they will be. And for that, this crow gives Sorceress:

Album rating: 9/10

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