The mighty Swedes known as Opeth continue on down their proggy road, far, far away from their death metal roots, on their latest release, and first for Nuclear Blast, Sorceress. Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Mikael Akerfeldt's love for vintage '60s & '70s prog, hard rock, folk, and psychedelia is well documented, and he's been slowly taking the band down this path now for their last 4-5 releases. Along with guitarist Fredrik Akesson, drummer Martin Axenrot, bassist Martin Mendez, and keyboard player Joakim Svalberg, Akerfeldt has created another masterpiece here, dripping with classic influences and providing for many rewards with each additional spin.
The lovely "Persephone" kicks things off, a brief acoustic piece with female spoken word vocals, which quickly segues into a rumbling organ/drum passage that signals the arrival of the hard rocking title track. Complete with Black Sabbath styled doom laden riffing and plenty of Uriah Heep/Deep Purple/Iron Butterfly organ bursts, "Sorceress" is a crankin' track that shows that Opeth still can headbang with the best of them, though now it's more from a '70s perspective rather than a '90s death metal framework. "The Wilde Flowers" again revisits yesteryear, with some charming Beatles styled vocals from Akerfeldt over heavy riffs & organ, Akesson ripping into a fiery lead guitar solo around the mid way point. Another excellent, heavy prog/hard rock/psych piece. For "Will O the Wisp" the band jumps into Jethro Tull mode minus the flute, Akerfeldt's vocals sounding not far removed from Ian Anderson circa 1975, supported by acoustic guitar strains and organ, with some bluesy guitar solos from the duo taking things to closure. This is a really lovely tune, and a future classic. Back to heavy again for "Chrysalis" as the band go full bore Uriah Heep/Deep Purple on us with Akerfeldt's aggressive vocals (well, in a Ian Gillan/David Byron sort of way) and a tumultuous blast of churning guitar, organ, and synth riffs while Axenrot blasts away underneath. It's another tremendous song, and one of the albums longest.
"Sorceress 2" calms things down with gentle acoustic guitars and tranquil vocals, blending into the Middle Eastern feel of "The Seventh Sojourn", complete with "Kashmir' styled keyboards, percussion, and alluring acoustic guitars. The mysterious "Strange Brew" is indeed just that, a marriage of folk, prog, and psych, as intoxicating acoustic guitars eventually give way to blazing synths and Axenrot's acrobatic drumming, allowing the heavy guitar & bass riffs to arrive with plenty of menace before Akerfeldt strains "There is a voice surrounding meeeee!" Images of Purple, Heep, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and Hawkwind pop up on this spooky number, and it's easily another album highlight. Just as you feel your heart in your throat, the band allow for some rest with the quirky Tull-meets-The Beatles ditty "A Fleeting Glance", and "Era" builds slowly to a fiery organ/guitar fueled barrage of hard rock & prog goodness, Akerfeldt once again the maestro of mystery as he delivers some enchanting vocals atop the mayhem. Closing things up almost as they began with "Persephone (Slight Return)", the band bid you goodnight after an intriguing and quite spellbinding party.
But wait, have you time for a quick nightcap? If you get the deluxe edition of Sorceress it comes with a bonus disc of goodies. "The Ward" is another new track, a breezy folk/jazz piece with a can't miss bass line, sumptuous acoustic guitars, electric piano, and killer vocal melodies. "Spring MCMLXXIV" is an additional new piece, complete with bluesy guitar work, gorgeous acoustic strums, passionate vocals, Mellotron, and synths. Once again, Opeth's flair for '60s/'70s styled psychedelia, prog & folk are in full display here. From there the band drop in a few live tracks from their previous world tour, the Mellotron drenched heavy rocker "Cusp of Eternity" (one of the standout tracks from the Pale Communion), the Blackwater Park classic "The Drapery Falls", and another gem from Pale Communion, "Voice of Treason". For those who are having a hard time listening to Opeth without the growls, the inclusion of "The Drapery Falls" here will no doubt be reason to celebrate, though it's clearly obvious that Akerfeldt either can't perform the growls like he used to or simply doesn't want to, as they are clearly weak here, a far cry from the commanding death metal voice he used to have just not long ago.
The verdict? Sorceress is clearly an absolute success on many levels, though I will say give it a few listens to fully reveal all its riches to you. Layered with plenty of textures and colors, Opeth have created here another step in their evolution, a near perfect marriage of progressive rock, heavy metal, folk, classic hard rock, and psychedelia. Easily a contender for best album of 2016...I think I'm ready to play this one again.
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3) The Wilde Flowers
4) Will O the Wisp
6) Sorceress 2
7) The Seventh Sojourn
8) Strange Brew
9) A Fleeting Glance
11) Persephone (Slight Return)
12) The Ward
13) Spring MCMLXXIV
14) Cusp of Eternity (live)
15) The Drapery Falls (live)
16) Voice of Treason (live)