Soldiering on through their new growl-free era, Opeth have either musically neutered themselves or continued to push progressive boundaries with quality music, depending on who you ask.
Splitting their fanbase down the middle with 2011’s infamous (but really rather good) Heritage album, guttural growls and heavy riffing went out in the window in favour of a greater emphasis on haunting, autumnal atmospherics and slight noodling, all drenched in 70’s worshipping prog.
This turned away a sizeable number in disgust, with the rest (and music publications) praising the resultant music for what it was, rather than what it wasn’t: and crucially, it was really fucking good. The same was said of 2014’s Pale Communion, which tumbled deeper down the prog rabbit-hole.
The naysayers can be forgiven, however, for while both Heritage and Pale Communion were excellent slabs of music in themselves, there was certainly something strangely different. Where the likes of past albums Blackwater Park, Still Life and Ghost Reveries were genuinely awe-inspiring, almost maddeningly inventive works hitting a high clang on the how-did-you-do-that register, Heritage and onwards are merely really-quite-good in comparison, destined to occupy an interesting spot in Opeth’s gleaming back catalogue but never to knock the twin giants of Ghost Reveries and Blackwater Park off their (deserved) high perches.
With this in mind (and in one’s ears), 2016 brings us the mysterious Sorceress. Boasting a title-track with the first heavy riffing of any kind since 2008’s Watershed, this new gilded release, essentially, continues onward from Pale Communion – as it should.
A straightforward return to death-metal stylings would carry a 99% chance of being an obvious rehash and lazy genre-milking, so hats must come off to Mikael Akerfeldt and co. for having the confidence to writing from the heart with more deliciously classy prog-rock.
So to an extent, the listener knows what to expect – piano, acoustic guitar, tasteful flute, looming keyboards, etc – and is rewarded in kind with more achingly beautiful instrumentation, inspired passages, haunting melodies and Akerfeldt continuing to be one of rock and metal’s most favoured sons.
Simply put, the quality bar is still endearingly high and Opeth have reliably rewarded those deciding to stick with them in a brave new musical world. Their classic past albums will always exist for those who prefer them, and the band have long since earned the right to do whatever they damn well please, and the results are fantastic.