If it wasn’t for guitar player Fredrik Åkesson, I might never have given Opeth a fair chance. See, I always thought that Opeth were a full-blown death metal band and I don’t really do death metal, it’s one of the few subgenres in hard rock that I really can’t stand. Since I have known Åkesson for many years now, even before he joined Talisman back in 1993, and since I only knew Opeth by name, I was, of course, interested in the band he had just joined. Åkesson had just been outed from Arch Enemy when band leader Michael Amott decided that he wanted to bring back his brother Christopher Amott who Åkesson had replaced not that long before. So, in 2007, Opeth guitarist Peter Lindgren decided to jump the ship and Åkesson was chosen as his replacement. I must admit that my first reaction was: “oh no, a death metal band…” but I decided to see what Opeth were all about and downloaded their 2005 album Ghost Reveries – and boy, was I floored. Sure, there were death metal in there, growling and all the works, but there was also a more progressive side and a softer and more melodic one to the band – and the mix really spoke to me. Yes, Opeth were special, with a sound that was their own and song writing skills beyond most bands in the more extreme genres. Today I’m a proud owner of every Opeth album – except for their debut Orchid (1995) that I still find too much death metal for my taste – and I’m a big fan of that band. So thank you Fredrik for joining that band and giving me yet another musical challenge to beat. Since their 2008 masterpiece Watershed, Opeth has changed their style pretty big. Gone are all the death metal and growling, making the band a real prog outfit. Heritage (2011) and Pale Communion (2014) are both albums that digs back into the 70’s and the prog rock from that era. This is a change that has been causing a lot of debate around Opeth fans – some loves it and some hates it – and even though they might lost some fans, my belief is that they have gained even more out of it. Personally, I’m a bit divided – I really love their later albums but at times I do miss the heavy and aggressive parts, I mean, as I said, it was the mix of the two that got me into the band in the first place. On the other hand, if you visit a Opeth gig, you will still get the best of both worlds – they do play their older stuff as well. That said, since the quality of the music is so high, it’s always exciting when they release a new album – and mind you, the expectations are set high on this lot. A new album that isn’t at least as good as the previous one will be a failure in my eyes (ears). However, the band has promised that Sorceress would be a heavier give than the last two albums which brings out some hope for fans of the pre-prog years.
The album opens with “Persephone”, a short acoustic guitar laden instrumental that ends with a short female spoken word. It’s a beautiful and tranquilizing track, but really does nothing to convince us that this will be a heavier record. But it’s just an intro – and a really good one that does its job – so we’ll have to be a bit more patient while we’re waiting for the promised heaviness. The title track that comes along do prove that there is heaviness to come, at least after the opening with the dark organ – drum duet. Still the guitar riff that comes in is pretty evil and dark sounding and it is heavy. But make no mistake, this is 70’s prog on bluesier base much like the stuff that you get on the last two records. It was chosen as the first single, released prior to the album and I guess they wanted to show the cross over to earlier stuff, but it never goes as metal as Opeth were 1995 – 2008. Still, it’s a brilliant song with an almost easy listening melody that sticks right off the bat. “The Wilde Flowers” keeps the prog rock coming, but on here I can here an influence that reminds me of Bigelf although the arrangement and the main melody is totally Opeth. It has a chorus that’s very memorable – we don’t use the words ‘catchy’ or ‘commercial’ here – and the guitar solo is very traditional metal. There is also a dynamic jazzy break in the middle which gives the song a chance to breathe – very cool, very awesome. “Will O The Wisp” is an acoustic tune, almost folky and with a slight Celtic feel. It is on the ballad side, but with a groove and when the bass, drums and keyboards comes in, they create an atmospheric and dreamy feel. “Chrysalis” is without a doubt one of the highlights on this record. The faster pace and the heavy metal guitars will give the fans of old Opeth something to dig and bang head to. There’s also a big Deep Purple / Rainbow influence all over the song but with all the later trademarks present. For those who wishes for growl it might come as disappointment, though.
“Sorceress 2” has very little to do with the title track – this is an acoustic, soft and almost psychedelic piece of music. Maybe I’m alone with this opinion, but I actually get a Led Zeppelin – their acoustic side – vibe from it. “The Seventh Sojourn” is mostly instrumental – some vocals comes in at the end of the song – and it is soft and acoustic guitar based with a keyboard / string arrangement that has a slight middle-eastern touch. I’m not particularly big on instrumentals normally, but Opeth are one of the few bands that can make one interesting. A great song. “Strange Brew” starts out soft but soon turns into the weird prog world of Opeth. Later it takes yet another turn into a Jimi Hendrix-esque groover with some bad-ass Zeppelin riffing before the middle part sets in with a late 60’s Beatles hippie touch. Then it goes big and heavy. Everything about this song is unpredictable and it really is an art form to make a song like this stick – kudos, guys. “A Fleeting Glance” is a soft prog tune with the occasional metal riffing where some of the guitar melodies reminds me of Blackmore’s Night. The vocal melody is both memorable and hummable and even though it’s hardly a radio friendly tune – far from it – it actually sticks. The last “real” song on the album is called “Era”. It starts with a beautiful classical piano melody signed Joakim Svalberg before it turns into an uptempo rocker, pretty straight forward for a Opeth song. It also sports a killer groove and swing and a melody, especially the refrain, that is – yes, this time I will use that word – catchy. This might just be the most easy listened song Opeth have ever recorded. We are also treated a brilliant Blackmore influenced guitar solo that fits the tune like a glove. The end the album with “Persephone (Slight Return)” which is really nothing more than the opening track but based on piano instead of guitar – a good way to round up this record.
So for all you naysayers of the prog version of Opeth, yes this album is a bit heavier than Heritage and Pale Communion, but it still has more in common with those albums than the earlier Opeth. There’s no death metal to be found and the growling has probably said its farewells forever. So I guess there’s nothing for you to find here. But for the rest of us, Opeth have with this album released one of their best albums ever – I only hold Watershed, Ghost Reveries and Still Life (1999) as better albums. And that is coming from a guy who believes that Opeth has hardly released anything bad at all. Song wise, this album has no weak spots at all even though I could probably do without the intro and the outro as songs. Sonically, I also find Opeth’s album a treat to the ear. Their records are more about creating dynamics than going off the deep end with all the needles on red, which is an unfortunate case with so many of the records released today – this band still thinks more in terms of vinyl and CD more than mp3’s on your iPhone or streaming through Spotify, which is such a relief. Just like the rest of their albums this might take a few spins before it sticks so be patient at give it some chances before you decide. Me, I’m stuck – again!
Other Opeth reviews:
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)