Rear View Mirror
So here we are considering Opeth’s twelfth studio LP potentially spending dozens of words retracing the past whereby the Swedes desert metal for something more frilly, more prog and less what the fans want. But we won’t. Since Opeth released Watershed in 2008, that’s eight years ago folks - longer than many bands' careers - they’ve put out two albums of 70s referencing prog-rock records in Heritage and Pale Communion that retain many of main main Mikael Akerfeldt’s lyrical concerns but background the metallic riffs and ground the growls. Sorceress is the latest in this lineage of albums melding Deep Purple, the Canterbury prog scene and folk music with the recognisable Opeth musicality. This is no surprise and clearly what Akerfeldt wants to play and this album is better than Pale Communion for my money.
The rhythm section of Martín Mendez and Martin Axenrot, guitarist Fredrik Akesson, and keyboardist Joakim Svalberg are the line-up that Akerfeldt has called upon for the modern Opeth sound and he does so again here to familiarly lush if unexciting results. The album opens with light classical guitar before alighting upon some jazzy kit work and Jon Lord organ moves that are periodically broken down by a chugging riff on the split personality title track. This doesn’t really indicate a troubled Opeth mission though. Strange Brew tries something similar to Sorceress with intermittent disruptive prog riffs but ends up making for a messy song. Elsewhere the harpsichord and minstrel vibes on A Fleeting Glance scare off a intriguingly sinewy guitar line .
Chrysalis a little further down the track listing represents everything great in a contemporary Opeth tune; twisting riffs augmented with Akerfeldt’s confident clean vocals, shamelessly retro keyboard sounds and an epic solo. Akerfeldt even sings, “leave it all behind you...pleasure in something new” Good advice. There are other moments of clarity such as the eastern tinged The Seventh Sojourn which throws back to the mantra of Atonement on Ghost Reveries and the piano heavy Era and Persephone (Slight Return) represent a great end to the record.
What do you want from a twelfth album? If it’s Brave New World this isn’t it - it doesn’t delight fans by relocating the band’s old sound in a modern context but nor is it Repentless diluting the band's former power due to a lack of new ideas. On Sorceress Opeth continue to dance to their own beat and although the musicianship may continue to impress it less likely to enthrall. They have asserted their right to pomp as showcased by the glorious, bloody peacock atop the human remains on the cover. Frilly wins.