Hello everyone! Since we think that each one of us at Prog Talk deserves the right to express their own opinion on an upcoming album, instead of having just one person analyse it, we’re introducing a new way to review albums; and this is our first attempt. Welcome to ‘Roundabout’ (yes, prog puns), where every admin that has a: time and b: interest, comes and shares their points of view. Our first review shall be of Opeth‘s upcoming album, Sorceress, which is coming out on September 30th.
Each review has been done independently from each other. We do talk a lot between ourselves, but Roundabout is about giving our own uninfluenced views on a record, and seeing where they parallel the others’ and where they clash. This section is about giving an unbiased review – just like a regular review -, but with more than one writer wanting to express his or her opinion. Enjoy.
Opeth is a progressive rock/metal band from Sweden, credited with being one of the first bands that combined the aggressive side of death metal with the complex melodies of progressive rock/metal (not to be confused with technical death metal), including inspiration from several styles like blues, folk, jazz, and classical music. With each album, their style kept evolving, reaching a peak with masterpieces like Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries. Their progressive roots were always present, leading to radical shifts in their sound with albums such as Damnation, which contained neither death growls nor metal sections. As frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt stated several times that he’s not influenced by extreme music anymore, he got rid of their death metal sound, keeping their iconic darkened melodies and combined it with his love for obscure progressive rock, leading to Heritage, one of Opeth‘s most controversial releases. Now, let each of us give you a short review about their newest album.
Opeth are trying to bridge the gap between their new devotion to clean vocals and their heavier, metal past as they drift away from Pale Communion‘s classic prog worship – it all goes as well as you might expect. Though with its extra acoustic noodling Sorceress also leans towards the acclaimed Damnation; a highlight, yes – yet it doesn’t quite live up to its Heritage (geddit?).
The album starts off unsteady with the title track and the laughable ‘The Wilde Flowers’; Scooby-Doo comes to mind throughout these self-parodies of songs. A wave of inoffensive, softer tracks like ‘Will O the Wisp’, ‘Sorceress 2’ and ‘The Seventh Sojourn’ are really quite pleasant and redeem the shaky start. The latter track even reminds me heavily of Storm Corrosion towards the end; though saying that I much prefer the Åkerfeldt / Wilson collaboration over anything from this album. Longer, heavier tracks have some great riffs and arrangements, notably ‘Chrysalis’ and the ‘drop’ in ‘Strange Brew’, but the progressions are so frequently disjointed that the album lacks a consistent flow.
Aside from a few dud tracks, Sorceress is pretty good, though you won’t see me reaching for it over any of Opeth‘s previous works. Oh – this is all disregarding the abysmal, abysmal lyricism of course, which I’ve given up on with this band for many a year; maybe next time Mikael could sing in Swedish?
Favourite tracks: ‘The Seventh Sojourn’ and ‘Chrysalis’
I was already somewhat disappointed by the letdown that happened after the album’s title track came out. The first riff was good, dance-able even, all within one of Messiaen’s modes, which is uncommon, but the song fell down a set of stairs (or two) as the main riff entered, threw out the window all the expectations we had for the song, and instead made us listen to a half-assed drop A riff. While this might be the lowest tuning ever on an Opeth song (prove me wrong), the riff is a total spell-breaker for the song.
The rest of the album shows the band’s creative exhaustion. Even when stepping on new grounds, musically, Opeth struggles to find the muse that made Blackwater Park, Damnation, Deliverance, Ghost Reveries, My Arms, Your Hearse, and Still Life such majestic and deathless pieces of art. I always was a Heritage fan – I think it was very creative and breathed new life in a band that didn’t need it, really -, but the lacklustre Pale Communion was, in retrospect, a hind that their creativity was indeed slowly sublimating from their minds.
Oh, and there are also a handful of minor annoyances I have with the album: its title is written twice on the cover art, ‘Sorceress 2’ is not an acceptable song title, and was ‘Reprise’ too common of a term that you needed to write ‘Slight Return’ instead? Really?
These are, of course, nothing to detract from the musical experience, but I thought I’d just share my woes on a side-note. Back on topic, the melodies and progressions within the songs are seldom interesting or even worth mentioning: they are predictable at best and asinine at worst. The lyrics on Sorceress are shallow and childish, as in a kid would’ve probably written that for their arts assignment, taking inspirations from their older brother’s (and his friends’) medieval fantasy role-playing games. “I am a sinner, and I worship Evil” is the abysmal depth at which the band currently lies, but they were never really known to be great lyricists, were they? Listen to Still Life again…
Sorceress is a strange’un for me, I must admit. Upon experiencing my first preview of the album in the release of its title track, I’d let out a very audible groan at the thought of having to tackle this one. However, as I finally took in the album as a whole, I was not only relieved but impressed as I came to my conclusion; this is Opeth‘s boldest release in years.
That’s not to say this album is perfect; it’s not by any stretch of the word. Especially in the opening tracks, there’s some oddly amateur moments like the pseudo-poetry breaking immersion on the otherwise charmingly atmospheric opener ‘Persephone’, or the clumsy opening melody to the title track which never goes anywhere. An especially special mention goes to the first half of ‘The Wilde Flowers’, which was so clichéd that I felt I needed to do a double take to make sure I was still listening to the band whom many have called “the masters of the genre”.
Yet once the opening stumbles passed, something suddenly clicked. The song I was just about to label as Opeth‘s weakest yet was suddenly decorating soothing melodies with subtle yet elegant harp flourishes, only to boom into incredibly energising closure, and for the first time in years with Opeth, not one element felt out of place. This trend continued with tracks like the Jethro-Tull-meets-Porcupine-Tree ‘Will O The Wisp’ and the somewhat arabesque ‘The Seventh Sojourn’, each representing a notably different side to the band’s sound while still keeping said sound purely Opethian. Gone was the genre-switch hesitance of Heritage, the paleness of Communion… Opeth was finally both confidant and comfortable. And topping the cake laid two tracks; ‘Strange Brew’ and ‘Era’. The former is what would happen if Storm Corrosion finally got the adrenaline boost it so desperately needed; the latter is a closer which does its job AS a closer perfectly. These two songs are ‘new Opeth‘ at their absolute best; confident, engaging, beautiful and near-sure to make you smile that smile.
So, after all this gushing, can I say this is a phenomenal album? Honestly… I don’t think I can, and this returns to the very first statement I made; this is a strange one. When Opeth hit their stride with this album, they go miles with it. But at the same time, when they don’t, you get songs like ‘Sorceress’ or ‘A Fleeting Glance’ which I find utterly forgettable. Not helping is that fact that, without Åkerfeldt’s growls to mask them, Opeth‘s lyrics are really starting to show their cracks lately. However, this is still their boldest work in ages, which is why I find it hard not to really enjoy it.
Can I recommend this album? Definitely. Not really. Maybe. It depends on if you’ll get swept up by the highs (like I did) or bogged down by the lows, because I seem to find that with this album, it’s hard to see it both ways.
Best tracks (in order): Strange Brew, Era, Will O The Wisp, The Wilde Flowers
Worst tracks (in order): The Wilde Flowers, A Fleeting Glance, Sorceress
I wasn’t keen on listening to Sorceress, I have to be entirely honest. Following the abrupt change of Heritage, I wasn’t sure what to think of modern Opeth. After evolving as a person over the course of a few years, I feel I can confidently say that it’s not that I ‘don’t get it’ or that I’m just a growling nostalgia seeker, I just feel like the music they’ve put out has been bathing in prog classic delight way too much.
Sorceress is heavier than their last two releases and it feels like it’s going for more of a hard rock edge this time around. I certainly can’t deny there’s some parts that I enjoyed, however they were very few and far between and were either spoiled by a change in tone, such as the spoken word in ‘Persephone’, or they felt jammed onto the end of a track with no real connection. ‘The Wilde Flowers’, ‘Chrysalis’ and ‘Strange Brew’ are perfect examples of this in my mind, as the endings of both songs felt so curiously disconnected from the tone of the rest of the pieces. ‘Strange Brew’ in particular just baffles me, as the middle section of the track feels like a blues, while the end has a more doom=y vibe. The tonal disconnect is too distant for me to really feel anything from it.
Opeth have always had a bit of a whimsical sound to their music at time, with the bard-like guitars and use of flutes and string sounds provided by the keys, yet personally, Sorceress is a step too far in the direction of something I would have on while planning out a Dungeons & Dragons campaign in a lot of places. The musicianship is still great overall; there’s quite a lot of really impressive solo work going on here in some songs and Mikael’s singing has vastly improved over the last ten years. It feels as though it has a lot more body to it and he can use more power and edge from the ‘clean’ side of his vocals without resorting to growling. I’d like to spin this one a little more and see how my opinion changes on it over the next few months. Pale Communion was a good listen in the background when I was working on projects but not something I could enjoy while focusing on it because I couldn’t draw any clear image from the sound. I get the same feeling from Sorceress, as it lacks any kind of interesting colour for me to actively pay attention to. Given that this feels like some D&D mixtape, it seems as though Mikael wants to play the role of the mysterious evil Sorceress but can’t escape the fact that he’s a fourty-something year old moustached bloke that can’t let go of the past with the 70’s sound he’s chasing, while equally letting go of Opeth‘s past to chase this dream. Certainly not the worst thing they’ve done. Far from their best.
Best: Sorceress 2, The Seventh Sojourn, A Fleeting Glance
Worst: Will ‘o’ The Wisp, Chrysalis, Sorceress
I guess I’m the black sheep here with regards to Opeth‘s discography: I haven’t really enjoyed anything they’ve done besides Damnation. Not a hater of growls and heavy music myself though – Colors, Jane Doe, and The Downward Spiral are among my favourites records. But these guys’ more intense side has never worked for me. Nor their past 2 albums. So, did this one caught my ear? Yes… and no. And for both good and bad reasons.
While I admire their decision to pursue other musical directions, I don’t think what they’re doing is new – basically just replicating a lot of that obscure, weird 70s rock like Comus and Goblin, etc. that Mikael and Steven Wilson love. This time, heavier. But in my ears, it just falls apart: songs that are a structural mess (‘Strange Brew’), or go nowhere (‘Seventh Soujourn’), that vary little (‘Chrysalis’) or are downright boring (‘A Fleeting Glance’). And let’s not talk about the album’s concept – I’ll just say that, if you told me the CD came with a 36-faced die and character sheets for D&D, I’d believe you.
Overall, Sorceress feels like a way heavier yet quite less inspired Storm Corrosion, with little of its experimentation and creativity. While I’m not a fan of their metal material, at least it had a strong personality and something unique to offer, Steven Wilson involved or not. As the other guys have noted, feels like Opeth‘s creative well has been running dry for a while – formerly one of the most progressive bands on the scene, they’re getting more and more regressive.
In adventuring for a new identity, they’ve lost themselves.
Let me just start by saying that Opeth is one of my favorite bands of all time, and that I agree with their new-found style that has been going since Heritage. The sound was okay, but inconsistent at parts; and I felt that it was inferior on the lyric department. Pale Communion was much more focused and ended up being at my Top 5 of 2014. So what do i think of this album? Well, I can say that it’s heavier and proggier than the former mentioned albums; however the inconsistency is also present on this release, but not as bad as it was on Heritage.
Acoustic opener ‘Persephone’ sets you up on the mood for the first track and single of the album Sorceress which encapsulates the sound of the album perfectly: It is heavy, proggy but with soft passages on the middle; and this happens with tracks such as ‘The Wilde Flowers’, ‘Chrysalis’ and ‘Strange Brew’ (this one being my personal favorite of the album). The problem with these passages is that, in my opinion, are not well put on the tracks, and it confuses me to the point that i feel they don’t belong on it.
Songs such as ‘Will O The Wisp’, ‘Sorceress 2’, and ‘The Seventh Sojourn’ are the other face of the record, an overall atmospheric sound with acoustic/folky parts that are joined by Mikael’s soft voice (Which I totally love, by the way).
It might sound like I didn’t like this album, but its totally the opposite; I liked it a lot, and I had a lot of fun listening to it, but some parts of the album baffle me and they take away some points from the final score. Opeth keeps exploring their sound, and I’m looking forward to what they might release in the future, but I hope they fix part of the issues that keep some of us not fully appreciating it.
That was it for our first ever collective review. We hope to bring you many more of this kind of content, especially for major releases like Opeth‘s, Meshuggah’s, Animals as Leaders’, The Neal Morse Band’s, et cetera. What did you think of Sorceress? Tell us by commenting here or on Facebook!