Opeth – who are sufficiently popular to headline shows at Wembley Arena, Radio City Music Hall and Sydney Opera House in the coming months – are audibly a band with the wind in their sails here. Sorceress is wonderfully exuberant, as the band’s current and best lineup click into the higher gear that was suggested on Pale Communion in 2014. Frontman and songwriter Mikael Åkerfeldt’s confidence is palpable on the title track’s mischievous mystery tour, with its jazz-fusion intro and the Scorpions-like crunch of riffs that are more overtly metallic than anything Opeth have recorded in years, while the Strange Brew is an electrifying blur of crescendos, diversions, dynamics and woozy blues.
Review Summary: Opeth conjure forth Sorceress, showing an eagerness to traverse exciting new musical realms in their characteristically eclectic manner.It has been clear for the past decade now that Opeth have largely shifted identities, even if the band don’t necessarily see it that way. Frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt recently stated that Heritage from 2011 wasn’t a huge change, outside of a few new production techniques. While an understandable justification, many fans would disagree.
Uncharacteristically, Åkerfeldt wrote the album quickly. He enlisted Tom Dalgety as co-producer (who also engineered and mixed) and Opeth recorded it in twelve days at Rockfield Studios in Wales. Sorceress is a madly assorted mixed bag. Åkerfeldt's inspirations this time out may still recall prog sources, but there are heavier ones, too: Black Sabbath and the Ritchie Blackmore/Jon Lord-era of Deep Purple.
With 2011’s Heritage and 2014’s Pale Communion, Swedish prog darling Opeth made the drastic—and incredibly divisive—decision to abandon its beloved death metal roots in favor of a more retro and colorful ‘70s rock/jazz/folk aesthetic. Sure, creative mastermind Mikael Åkerfeldt and company had toyed with such styles before (most consistently on 2005’s Ghost Reveries), but this newfound commitment evoked shades of pioneers like Goblin, Jethro Tull, and Camel like never before. As a result, these last two LPs were almost equally embraced and rejected by devotees (to his credit, though, Åkerfeldt never seems to let fan reactions alter his artistic vision), and unsurprisingly, the group’s 12th studio offering, Sorceress, will likely elicit the same polarized feedback.
While elements of progressive rock have been present in their catalogue in one form or another for years, Opeth fully launched themselves headfirst into the style with 2011's Heritage. Since then, a percentage of their following has wondered exactly when and if their metal leanings would ever resurface. 2014's Pale Communion didn't provide such a musical shift, and new LP Sorceress doesn't either for the most part, but headbangers will be thrilled to hear that their latest is the darkest and heaviest entry in the band's current phase.The harder sections of Sorceress unsurprisingly draw heavily from the '70s, rock organs at the forefront as the band channel the sounds of a bygone era to fit their own blueprint.
Around the time when Opeth were recording their second album Morningrise, they formed Steel, a tribute to the ’80s speed metal they grew up with. They only released one EP, Heavy Metal Machine, and its cheekiness and obvious nostalgic air (that stuff was already ancient in 1996!) did not obscure the fact that Mikael Åkerfeldt is a legit shredder. Dan Swanö, Opeth’s producer at the time and former mastermind of Edge of Sanity, sounded legit charming, like Brian Johnson trying his hand at AOR.
Sorceress Following this delicate introduction, the dissonant prog grooves that mark the start of the titular track are somewhat jarring; Opeth finding new ways to create discomforting contrast within their refurbished sound. Eventually the track levels out, and as it does a gentle, chugging riff breaks out. This forms the basis of an engrossing verse, during which bandleader Mikael Åkerfeldt sings: “You’re a charlatan.