(Nuclear Blast)

01. Persephone
02. Sorceress
03. The Wilde Flowers
04. Will O the Wisp
05. Chrysalis
06. Sorceress 2
07. The Seventh Sojourn
08. Strange Brew
09. A Fleeting Glance
10. Era
11. Persephone (Slight Return)

RATING: 7.5/10

The singularity of OPETH's career trajectory has been brave and fruitful. The palette from which the Swedish band has dressed its canvas has been more diverse than the death metal, progressive rock and folk amalgam that commonly, and loosely, describes the group. It has certainly expanded metal's boundaries because of its unique marriage of various styles. OPETH eventually narrowed its focus upon its seventies prog adoration five years ago with 2011's "Heritage" through to the 2014 follow-up "Pale Communion"”. While the band arguably clung too closely to its idols on the aforementioned releases, "Sorceress" now finds the group swimming through classic prog oceans more comfortably.

This isn't to say that OPETH has entirely eschewed its metallic roots. The title track sets off with Joakim Svalberg's swaggering organ riff, which is seemingly torn from the pages of DEEP PURPLE's playbook. This turns into the most grandiose of guitar crunches, not exactly something the band has been known for, rolling forward with a simple, pounding John Bonham-esque drum beat before the song eventually winds down with a bright, heavy guitar lick. As the album progresses, that heaviness emerges less frequently. This doesn't mean there is a lack of energy. "Chrysalis" steamrolls with a pressing rhythmic drive complementing Mikael Åkerfeldt's inspired vocal theatricality. The song is driven by air-guitar-worthy axe work and keyboard lines that symbiotically play off one another.

After nearly 30 years and 12 albums, the band's adventurous spirit hasn't waned in the slightest. It sounds like a band discovering itself in terms of vigor and artistic curiosity. Where it once forged a path of thunderously metallic elegance, sometimes awkwardly jolting within their heavy/calm dichotomy, OPETH has now modernized classic prog in a seamless manner. The band's music offers plenty of fat for open-minded metalheads and prog fans to chew upon. Middle Eastern scales — performed by Wil Malone, producer of IRON MAIDEN's eponymous debut — are plucked and hand drums are beat on "The Seventh Sojourn"”, an almost entirely instrumental number that unravels a mystical sense of tranquility.

Perhaps it's because of its combination of contemporary aesthetics and timeless beauty, but there is a certain je ne sais quoi as to why "Sorceress" is so accessible. It isn't likely, however, that the group will be rock radio darlings any time soon. With the exceptions of the intro, outro and title track, the rest of the album's songs exceed five minutes in length. This includes the album's almost nine-minute-long highlight, "Strange Brew", a track that begins with dreamy acoustic work that's torn apart with a frenzy of eerie, adroit progressive instrumentation that's followed by a foray into Southern blues. The song moves toward a majestic climax that's so bold and epic that it almost elicits a perception of gallantry. The praise here is merited for such a powerful encapsulation of raw emotion. Conceptually defining human experience is one thing, but successfully channeling it artistically and on this magnitude is what makes OPETH a constant force to be reckoned with.


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