Thursday, September 29, 2016

Album Review: Sorceress by Opeth

Performance trumps originality.

"Persephone", the opener of Opeth's new disc Sorceress starts with mellow Spanish sounding guitar, light enough not to get in the way of some spoken word (Persephone herself, perhaps?) before diving into the title track. I was initially disappointed by this lead single, considering it to be by-the-numbers heavy prog.  However, I stuck with it and was reminded that in rock music, performance is at least as important as composition. Led Zeppelin's first couple of records provide ample evidence of that. "Sorceress" is a stunning rocker, vocals are flush with intensity at precisely the right moments. That importance of performance holds true throughout the album, not just on the title track. Nothing here is particularly surprising, but it's all done so goddamned well.  The album feels warm and comfortable, like a favorite old jacket on the first cool day of Autumn. It overcomes the apparent lack of originality by never sounding derivative. I could spend this entire review talking about other artists which various bits of the album remind me of, but the riffs never feel tired or recycled. The title track closes with a section bandleader Mikael Ã…kerfeldt says was influenced by ABBA, and I think that influence can be heard throughout the record insofar as everything is extremely polished; transitions are smooth and everything is really well put together.

Any fan of vintage keyboards is going to love this album. The variety and scope of them are awe inspiring. Peppered throughout the record are moments of jazz fusion with an almost Zappa-esque vibe. Mikael shows his Deep love for Purple (and obviously Cream) with some kick-ass blues in "Strange Brew".

Mellow passages are exceptional almost across the board, and there are plenty of them.  "Will-o-the-Wisp", "Sorceress 2" and "Seventh Sojourn" are devoid of anything hard or particularly heavy, and are currently my favorite tracks on the album.  "Seventh Sojurn", with its Middle Eastern scales, evokes late-era Led Zeppelin so well that I expect to hear Robert Plant sing every time I listen to it. 

While there's nothing on the record that is particularly metal, "Chrysalis" contains some pretty intense riffing that brings to mind the sound of Opeth's classic progressive death metal, e.g. "The Leper Affinity".   Interestingly, due to the overall prog rock vibe of the record, the first thing it reminded me of was Pink Floyd's, "One of These Days".  Opeth's change in direction is more superficial than is apparent.  They've dropped a lot of extreme metal "vocabulary" (death grunts, blast beats, et al.) but the grammar remains intact.

In closing, Sorceress tips its hat to Pink Floyd's M.O. by finishing the record as it began, with "Persephone (Slight Return)". Opeth rarely fail to deliver, and this is no exception; Sorceress is a great addition to Opeth's catalog that I expect will reward repeat listening for a long time.  


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