Today, I am the bearer of bad news. Opeth’s new album Sorceress is a disappointment even to me, the biggest fan of Opeth’s hard-left 2010’s genre change that I know.
Just recently, our homeboy Boss the Ross did a fabulous job narrating his experience diving through the entire Opeth’s Discography with fresh ears, from the earliest releases all the way through 2014’s Pale Communion. He, along with absolutely everyone paying attention to the band, noted that 2011’s Heritage was the largest stylistic shift in Opeth’s two decade long history. From then until now, they have flouted all obvious metal trappings and fully embraced a haunted, seductive take on 70’s prog rock.
Heritage sounded like Mikael Åkerfeldt had been born anew. Those tracks conjured an atmosphere stylistically indebted to the playful, seductive evil of Comus, and the stately majesty of early Genesis, a change of pace I can only imagine Åkerfeldt found necessary after twenty years of being the David Gilmore of sad-guy-metal. Pale Communion wasn’t quite as inspired as Heritage, but still came from a meaningful place and had some absolute bangers. It gave me hope that this era of Opeth would be just as fruitful as the previous incarnations, but Sorceress is a goddamn mess. The best way I can describe it is – to borrow a joke from the Tumblr crowd -fuckin’ SPOOPY.
Opeth’s sound in 2016
Sorceress actually starts strong, with a somber acoustic 6/8 opener (straight out of the classic Opeth playbook) leading into the title track, which features the heaviest riff we’ve heard from this band in several years. It’s a shame this perfectly fine chug groove is spoiled by cringey lyrics and that the rest of the song is as aimless as a drunk renaissance fair archer.
Those lyrics… come on now.
Of course, Mikael Åkerfeldt is still an impressive musician, so most of these songs have some redeeming factors (like a wicked solo or stirring background textures), and the all tones on the record are actually pretty gorgeous, but the core of all these songs are lazy garbage. Åkerfeldt is killing it as his own arranger/sideman, but totally failing as a songwriter. Unlike Heritage and Pale Communion, which swam confidently through a psychedelic haze, these tracks go from movement to movement with only the vaguest sense of structure or intent. That would be forgivable or even charming if all the melodies were AMAZING, but they’re generally a C- at best. “The Wilde Flowers” comes close to having a purposeful climax, but the “big finisher” is as flaccid and unconvincing as a sack of dildo-shaped Jell-O Jigglers.
I think there is still untapped potential in the new canon of Opeth, but Mikael Åkerfeldt really has to step up his game if he wants to keep my attention after shitting out this savage disappointment of a “prog” record.