Saturday, October 1, 2016

Opeth - Sorceress Review

When it comes to legendary metal bands like Opeth, some fans don't so much become fans of the music, they fall in love with the band. And who could blame them? Back in 1999, Opeth was the stuff of dreams for any metalhead, walking around wearing a Morbid Angel shirt and growling so sultrily. But then between 2005 and 2008 Opeth started hanging out with more psychedelic friends and the relationship got strained. Opeth just wanted a bit more space to be its own thing rather than going to hang out at the latest Horrendous show and the relationship started to drift apart. And things got really strained in 2011 when Opeth started wearing brown corduroy bell bottoms around town. It was like Opeth had become another person, and seeing them around town just reminded everyone of how things used to be. It would be easier if Opeth were dead. At least then you could remember the old times without having to see them having fun and acting all weird and selfish. In 2016 it's time to buy that lovelorn fan a drink and have the talk. They will always have Blackwater Park, but people grow and change and you have to learn to let go. Opeth has moved on. They are happy. Maybe it's time that you move on as well instead of waiting for Opeth to come back and say that you were right all the time.

Because really, Opeth are doing all right without you. They may not be listening to Voivod as much or stomping on their HM-2 distortion pedals and growling, but they've been playing the shit out of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple and some really obscure Italian stuff that's quality music, and they've been filtering it through their own tastes and abilities and coming up with some interesting results that keep things fresh while still sounding like they fit alongside all that stuff they used to play back when you still thought they were the one for you.

Take Sorceress for example. Parts of it are a familiar reminder of the past. "Chrysalis" could slot into an Opeth playlist heavy on the Ghost Reveries era without seeming at all out of place. The same goes for "Seventh Sojourn, " which has the same sort of Eastern influence found on "Atonement" (or on the last half of "Closure" for that matter). "Sorceress" shares a sort of stuttering majesty with the end of "Harlequin Forest." Half of the album sounds exactly like what someone would expect it to if they were to consider for a moment that the album was written directly following the band taking a break from supporting Pale Communion and doing a series of dates where they played Ghost Reveries in its entirety*.

But those touchpoints don't really do the album itself, or the band, justice, just as saying the band has become Mikael's solo project doesn't give credit to how amazingly the musicians performing on this album are communicating with each other and playing some beautiful, intricate, dynamic music. Svalberg's keyboards are more integral to the sound than ever and his playing is full of feeling and life. Åkesson's solos are things of intricate beauty that transcend his technical skill, displaying how much soulful tone he can cram into a part where a lesser guitarist would just shred. (He also co-wrote the beautiful "Strange Brew," putting the lie to all of the solo project talk.) Axenrot continues to astound us with how much he has grown beyond being a death metal drummer, fitting seamlessly into even the quietest and jazziest moments of the album without a single stumble. And Méndez, ever the talented bassist, spends much of "Seventh Sojourn" as the improvisational voice of the band, putting in some of the most intriguing bass lines I've heard.

All things you'd miss if you kept listening for signs of your old love, rather than meeting up to see where an old friend's life had taken them since we last saw them a few years ago.

It's not Blackwater Park. It's not even Pale Communion. What it is, though, is pretty damn good music that shows a band continuing to grow and develop and come up with new things to say.

*Which was awesome.