By The Great Sun Jester

Opeth’s first album since 2014’s Pale Communion, Sorceress, marks the band’s first studio release through the Nuclear Blast label. The band convened at the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales for the recording of their twelfth studio album. Opeth’s discography is marked by numerous genre busting and redefining moments, so it’s certainly arguable that guitarist and chief songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt and this iconic metal band are entering a new phase of consolidation. The band’s legacy is secure and new albums can seem superfluous or else as just another gesture towards posterity. Akerfeldt avoids that however. The eleven songs compromising Sorceress offers the band’s audience evidence that Akerfeldt is far from ready to rest on his laurels and still pursues new creative dawns with every bit of the restless that carried Opeth this far. 

The album opens on a gently lyrical note. The largely instrumental “Persephone” has some relatively intricate and precisely played acoustic guitar accompanied by a female voice buried deeper in the mix alternating between singing and spoken word. The title song is an ideal example of the genre fusion Opeth has achieved – it meshes outright progressive rock with hard rock muscle in a seamless way. It will likely be written, when such things are appraised, that one of Opeth’s lasting achievements will be their comprehensive command of dynamics. Akerfeldt’s songwriting doesn’t consistently draw from the same narrow range of musical dynamics; instead, every style is potential grist for his mill. “Sorceress” mixes a variety of textures and approaches together in a dramatic and complementary way. “The Wilde Flowers” has a surprising exuberant bounce and plenty of power despite the relatively straight-forward tempo dominating the track. The guitar work too often shoots for bells and whistles instead of digging deeper into melody, but it isn’t enough of a weakness to drag down the track as a whole.

“Chrysalis”, after a brief wind-up introducing the song, soars out of the gates with fleet-footed, propulsive muscle that exerts just the right amount of power. There isn’t a heavy-handed moment, however, at any point and the band wisely varies their approach with some of the customary progressive touches increasingly common in Akerfeldt’s writing. The album’s second iteration of the title cut, “Sorceress 2”, covers the same sonic ground as the opener with added color from organ and Akerfeldt taking on the vocal. There’s a macro and micro on this album deserving observation. The track listing and dynamic movement from song to song imposes impressive coherence over Sorceress, a sort of Aristotelian unity, while each song contains the same attention to mood and coherence on a smaller scale. “The Seventh Sojourn” summons up an intensely cinematic musical landscape and persists with the largely acoustic approach heard in the preceding song, but what crowns the drama is the song’s final section, a wintry piano coda.

“A Fleeting Glance” has an unusually jaunty tempo in its opening section that makes effective use of unusual instrumentation. Nothing, however, on an Opeth album is ever arbitrarily employed – there’s rhyme and reason behind every addition. The band exerts its guitar muscle as the track progresses and it heightens the drama. “Era” is the album’s concluding song and pulls out any remaining stops with its precise and breakneck tempo changes. An enduring criticism heard in some quarters, the occasional histrionic quality of Akerfeldt’s vocals, affects this song some, but never adversely enough to drag down its overall merit. Opeth’s Sorceress is a worthwhile addition to the band’s discography that shows a band still working at or near the peak of their powers.