Opeth - Sorceress
Nuclear Blast
Progressive Rock/Metal
11 songs (56:35)
Release year: 2016
Opeth, Nuclear Blast
Reviewed by Goat
Major event

“This band needs no introduction!” is a music journalism cliché, and metal is an especially egregious offender. Yes, you have probably heard of Opeth, if you’re reading MetalReviews.com, and you probably have heard enough of Opeth to have your own opinion on the band. So why bother reviewing anything but obscure basement black metal demos, if so? Part of what I like about music writing is the very thing I like about reading about music – the sharing of opinion, the chance to see a different point of view and unlock an aspect of an album that my own blinkered view had missed. So, you’ll forgive me for briefly touching upon Opeth’s history, even if you know it; a band of music fans, who started in the death metal underground and gradually added prog elements until on 2011’s Heritage they ditched (death) metal altogether to become a throwback band, a tribute to the 70s burst of inspiration that gave us so much good music upon which so much of today’s good music is based. Opinions vary on the albums since; I loved Heritage at release, and subsequently my love soured a little, and loved 2014’s Pale Communion on release, and subsequently my love has only sharpened and grown more intense. I know many of you reading won’t agree, and I make no apologies. My fandom for Mikael Åkerfeldt and co is well established on this site – which is a large explanation for what makes it feel so weird to not acclaim a new Opeth album as the best thing to be released that year...

Heritage was different enough to be interesting as a statement from the band in and of itself. Others may have started side projects for their interest in 70s music (let’s not pretend Opeth are true originators there) such as Bill Steer’s Firebird, but Opeth threw aside the metal riffs and growls to create an iconoclastic original that sharply divided fans, many of whom would have discovered underground metal through Opeth’s earlier releases. Pale Communion followed, the band using this throwback genre to reintroduce and reinforce their sound. It sounded like Opeth in a way that Heritage didn’t, a sign of comfort in their new guise and that leaving death metal in their past wasn’t that huge of a mistake. Or so I thought before hearing Sorceress, anyway! Look, Sorceress isn’t quite as boring as it sounds initially, and this review was originally much more bitter and angry, but even after many listens I can’t help but find it much, much duller than previous albums. Haters will take that as a sign of my subconscious realisation that they were right all along and Opeth have sucked since Watershed (or Still Life for the non-false). And maybe they’re right, as even with multiple listens I’m still a little shocked at what a drop in quality Sorceress is from Pale Communion - it’s as dull as they claimed the band had become.

With maximum unkindness engaged, I would accuse Opeth of having burrowed so far down the 70s throwback cul-de-sac that they’ve run out of ideas and had to fill a near hour-long album with aimless acoustic plucking. Feeling more generous, I’d say they were trying to please both the metal and prog crowd at once, and didn’t succeed. Looking at the title track as an example, the first real ‘song’ after the aimless acoustic plucking on intro Persephone, we get a little bit of everything. Funky keyboards and drums opening the track, leading into groovy downtuned riffs that seem just a little on the simplistic side as they follow vocal hooks, compared to the complexity shown in the surrounding instruments, and that drag the otherwise enjoyably catchy track down somewhat. It feels like the Opeth of Pale Communion cut into single format, with added prog wankery to please the prog wanker crowd. Yes, it’s clearly Opeth from the melody and style of playing, but it feels like a cut-and-paste Opeth formula of heavy metal section plus prog section. And considering it’s one of the better tracks on the album, not a great omen.

The Wilde Flowers follows, almost repeating those downtuned riffs by again having them punctuate vocal hooks but taking them in a different direction thanks to better use of lead guitar that makes the song feel more like a 70s prog rock hit. Yet because this is Opeth you can’t just have a perfectly lovely four-minute proggy rock song, but instead have to have it drawn out to a near-seven minute mini-epic complete with interlude mellow section. It’s too much! The band seem to realise this because the following Will O The Wisp is a five-minute acoustic ballad. Unfortunately, that’s the last time this album is interesting. All too often from then on, the band slip into boring folk-rock that goes nowhere, repetitive and lacking the usual songwriting genuis. Chrysalis is a slightly up-tempo version of what went before, and at over seven minutes feels twice as long as it needs to be. Interlude Sorceress 2 is a ridiculous three minutes-plus of aimless acoustic plucking and oddly horrendous falsetto vocals from Åkerfeldt, like some lost Genesis experiment expunged for being too weedy, while the following The Seventh Sojourn throws Middle-Eastern percussion and melodies in but can’t make it interesting thanks to dragging the same melody out for far too long, feeling like another interlude piece as a result. The lack of energy is incredible, the album feeling as if it’s hit a lethargic ditch it can’t get out of. Strange Brew’s eight minutes counters this somewhat after two more minutes of dulldom with a funky rock freakout, albeit one that soon peters out into more lethargic dirge. Era has a dull opening but throws in more downtuned metal riffing to add much-needed flavour – and then you’re on outro Persephone (Slight Return)... and that’s it!

So: nearly an hour of Opeth that dragged unbelievably, feeling flabby and bloated, devoid of ideas and often painfully boring. What the hell happened to the band that was so good at writing songs that incorporated their ideas well? Aside from a couple of tracks that try and use metal riffs for flavour and are relatively killer only compared to the rest of the album, Sorceress is seriously lacking in interest. Even those songs are nothing compared to gems from past Opeth albums! Those who really, really loved the last couple of albums will get some interest out of this – it’s as well-played as you’d expect from a group of their stature and there’s enough pretty singing and lead guitar to ensure some enjoyment – but for a band that has so consistently set the bar higher and higher and managed to surpass themselves every time, Opeth have seriously let me down here. How sad to have to say it, but lower your expectations.

Killing Songs :
Sorceress, The Wilde Flowers, Strange Brew
Goat quoted 65 / 100
Other albums by Opeth that we have reviewed:
Opeth - In Cauda Venenum reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Opeth - Pale Communion reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Heritage reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Orchid reviewed by James and quoted 79 / 100
Opeth - Watershed reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 94 / 100
To see all 15 reviews click here
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