“Avant-garde” has been defined as “new and experimental ideas and methods in art, music, or literature“. Never has such a definition been so readily applicable to a band than to the Swedish philosophers, Opeth. They have been around since 1989 and have released a formidable catalogue of albums, including the classics Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries.
Never easy to pigeonhole, Opeth have seemingly been immune to fads or fashions, morphing from Death Metal superstars to purveyors of Progressive/Jazz rock. Sorceress has just been released to positive reviews, with main man Mikael Åkerfeldt steadfastly refusing to make music for the masses.
So what did I expect from this record? Well, I wanted to see if any aggression remained and whether the band could rock out in any shape or form. On first impression, there are a multitude of musical journeys to be followed in the grooves. However, very few of them snap into life and breathe fire. It is an elegant album, that snatches a plate from many genres, tucking into a buffet of beautiful riffs and thoughtful noodles, but it does lack a bit of the old snap.
The curtains open with the almost obligatory gentle instrumental with “Persephone“, which is all classical guitar akin to some of Metallica‘s openers like “Battery“. This is the classic way to get the listener hooked, with some breathy female talking adding to the mood.
The title track follows and it is full of dissonance and discord with a Hammond organ following some fuzz guitar. It has whiffs of the Doors mixed with a bit of Ghost. The riffing is pretty heavy and I dug the vibe and groove – the time signature is not a straight up 4 x 4.
The album continues with “Wilde Flowers“, which has a melody line very similar to UK Ska band The Specials and their classic “Gangsters“…What a point of reference! It works really well for Opeth – a Ska album in the future perhaps?
The record gets heavier as it progresses, interspersed with lighter moments, such as “Will O The Wisp“. It is a real sonic experience, full of invention, melody, and mystery.
Highlights for me include the fantastic “Spring MCMLXXIV” and the wandering thoughtful “Strange Brew”. It’s a record that will take some living with, but it is a classy release from the genius of Opeth.