It was not without some degree of trepidation that I accepted the offer of reviewing Sorceress. ‘Oh, yes please’, I eagerly replied, and then the thought hit: how much of it will I actually like? Will it be all too similar to Heritage and Pale Communion? These were albums I found difficult to appreciate, and only ended up liking a few tracks (pretty much only from Heritage, such as The Devil’s Orchard and I Feel the Dark). Will I be upsetting those who worship at the altar of the great Åkerfeldt? One only has to read comments found on such knowledgeable sites like Farcebook (where all literary giants, capable of rational thought and argument go), to see that anyone having a “but, I don’t like it” opinion is soundly told to go forth and multiply.

So, do I like it? Well…yes…and no. Is it a heavy album? Well…yes…and no. For those of you holding out for some much longed for growled vocals….sorry, you won’t find any. I’m not surprised by that, as Åkerfeldt has moved away from that style of singing for a while now, and his clean vocals are great anyway. He may no longer have the power required to perform the growling vocals much any more, going by how relatively quiet they sounded the last time I saw them live.

Sorceress is Opeth’s 12th studio album, their first release after signing with Nuclear Blast earlier this year. The 30 second teaser from the track Sorceress which was released on 18 June, didn’t excite me much, though it certainly did for others. This snippet blasted my ears with unpleasant jazz-prog fusion noise – there seemed to be no groove or melody to grab me. Hence my initial concern there was going to be little to love. Fortunately, after about the 1:00 mark in this track (Track 2) the song take a complete shift into a heavier mode, accompanied by some chunky riffs and Martin Axenrot’s awesome drumming. In a recent interview, Åkerfeldt mentioned “…I hope someone will hear the start of the song and think ‘Oh, not another fusion song!’ and then the riff comes in…” Yes, well played sir, you got me! It’s now become one of my favoured tracks after hearing it a few more times.

The album opens and ends with intro and outro tracks Persephone and Persephone (Slight Return). Persephone is the queen of the underworld, and according to Homer “…carries into effect the curses of men upon the souls of the dead”. So maybe she’s our sorceress. Both tracks are very quiet, acoustic numbers with some spoken word. I could do without both – they are very short and don’t seem to relate to the rest of the album, though Åkerfeldt has been quoted as saying that Persephone (Slight Return) is “…not really a song, just the last part of Era…” (Only due to the fact that there is no song break between those tracks, as far as I am concerned).

Chrysalis begins with what sounds like the opening chord from Evie Part I – but the similarity ends there, with some faster, heavy riffs and solid drums, with some Pink Floyd-ish keyboard touches here and there. Toward the end of the track, Fredrik Åkesson (guitar) and Joakim Svalberg (keyboards) head off into dueling solos. Åkesson is an extremely talented guitarist, and I enjoy his efforts, but too much of the overbearing jazz/prog keyboards in this track doesn’t do a lot for me. Otherwise, this is a pretty enjoyable track.

Track 6, Sorceress 2 initially sounds like Brain Damage by Pink Floyd (‘the lunatic is on the grass’). Run that through your head when you listen to it, and you won’t be able to get it to go away – you can thank me later. A rather pleasant, mellow, acoustic tune, that grew on me more after each listen.

The beginning of The Seventh Sojourn makes me think of a The Halcyon Days by The Tea Party (not a bad thing) – very middle eastern sounding. It feels like this should be part of a Hollywood Arabian movie soundtrack from the 50’s! Tony Curtis in The Prince Who Was a Thief, anyone? This is an instrumental track, until right at the very end. Very mellow and rather enjoyable – touches of Damnation. Will O the Wisp is another Damnation-esque track, and is just beautiful – pure and simple.

Strange Brew is definitely not the same titled song by Cream, but apparently Åkerfeldt had been listening to Disraeli Gears a lot at the time of writing, so hey, why not call it that?? More jazz/prog love right here folks – all a little too jarring at times. But there are elements here I do like.

A Fleeting Glance is all harpsichord and quiet vocals for starters, but  moves into a typical Opeth sounding guitar solo and some heavier riffs, but then switches back to ‘renaissance‘ times! It does manage to finish on a great sounding guitar solo.  Left me a little unsure what to think.

Era is a fast and heavy rocking track, don’t let the quiet start fool you – this is more like it! I’d almost given up hope that there would be a track like this on the album. I certainly don’t hear Persephone (Slight Return) as a part of this track at all, sorry Mikael!

Opeth have always had some prog overtones to their songs – even back in their earlier years. It now seems that the jazz/prog fusion is taking over far more, as is Mikael Åkerfeldt’s wont. Some of you will not necessarily enjoy all of this album, but give it a few listens. Sometimes those albums that you need to hear a few times before they grab you are the ones you keep playing for years to come. There are certainly some tracks on Sorceress that have grown on me after a few goes, and couple of stand outs; definitely Sorceress (sans the first minute), Will O the Wisp, and Era.

Sorceress is due for release on 30 September.