Sunday, September 25, 2016

Album Review: Opeth - Sorceress

Be careful what you wish for.

That saying comes to mind every time I put on a new Opeth record. There was a time when I listened to them, and the only thought that came to mind was, "how much better would they be without the growls?" Mikael Akerfeldt was on such a songwriting roll for a long time that the pure death metal parts were all that stood between them and mass success. So when they finally shifted their sound, it should have been the start of something great, and I should have eaten it up. Instead, their dedication to old-school prog has sucked not just the life out of them, but their creativity as well. Opeth is a completely different, lesser band because of the change. But I'll get to that later.

"Sorceress" is the third album in Opeth: Phase Three. So far, this iteration of the band has released two blisteringly mediocre albums that have redefined the ways that a modern metal band can go off the rails. I'm not talking about the lack of heaviness. I don't care about that aspect in the slightest. With the change in sound came a change in songwriting, and that has been one of the most baffling losses of talent I've ever seen.

When Opeth was at their height, Mikael would write a twisting helix of death metal, and then throw in an unbelievable melody to make you wonder just where in the hell this guy came up with such stuff. "Still Life" and "Blackwater Park" may not be the most economical songwriting, but they have such spark, passion, and damn memorable songs that it's painful to hear how far Mikael has fallen. With each passing album, his writing gets more and more vanilla, to the point where he's serving up cold milk without a hint of flavor.

"Sorceress" is Opeth at their absolute worst. This album is a testament that creativity is fleeting, and you have to take advantage of it while you can, lest you become this boring. Mikael tries to bring back some of the old heaviness, but he does it by playing riffs that could have come off a Gojira album, which is not his style at all. The title track is built on such a simple, boring riff that the entire song is a long slog where you check your watch waiting for it to be over. The rest of the album doesn't make things any better.

We get a mix of a few tracks that try to be heavy, and a few that wander completely off the prog rails. Songs are slow, soft, and without any redeeming ideas. Here's the crux of the problem; when Mikael was writing death metal with melody thrown in, he wrote his vocal lines making sure that the growled parts were interesting enough on their own, but now that he's writing nothing but clean vocals, he's gotten lazy. He writes the first thing that comes to mind, and doesn't care if it's interesting or not. As long as his voice sounds good (which it doesn't anymore, as much as he strains to sing nowadays), he thinks that's good enough. Well, it's not.

Between the barely there vocal melodies, and the long passages of meandering and tepid riffs, there just isn't anything on this album that captures your attention. It's rehashed prog, yes, but it's boring rehashed prog. You can sound like everything else and still write interesting songs, but that's not what Opeth does anymore. Mikael hears something on an obscure old vinyl, copies the sound for a few minutes, and thinks that's a great piece of Opeth-ian music. It's not. It's a record collector scavenging because he no longer has anything left in himself.

I'm not saying Opeth is dead, but they're on life support, and "Sorceress" isn't convincing me that they're ever going to make a recovery.

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