Nuclear Blast 2016
Twelfth offering from Swedish wizards who locate mojo and magic in a sacred – loud ‘n’ proud – place that they now don’t fear to tread.
It’s somehow ironic that, having signed to Nuclear Blast, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s ensemble delivered the least metal-minded album of their entire career, but this final fusion of heaviness and prog intrigue removes whatever vestiges of the band’s erstwhile dual personality there were. Given a circular structure by passing bookends to the exquisite vignettes of “Persephone” and its “Slight Return” to bind the album to a classic source, “Sorceress” is no stranger to going off on a tangent, as two title tracks – one tightly grooving, the other transparent as a specter – prove when gloom is mitigated with folk undercurrent and a sense of merriment, which would crown “Era” and could surface in “Chrysalis” if the piece’s cosmic jive weren’t so afraid to spread the record’s wings and fly away.
Think of a peacock on the cover: here’s a bird that can’t soar but is able to mesmerize with its plumage. Indeed, it’s impossible to escape the acoustic caress on “Will O The Wisp” and a mournful pull behind “The Wilde Flowers” where vocal harmonies bloom amidst organ swirl, before guitar riffs strip such a ritualistic approach to spare strands of voice and strum of strings and distil hellish emotions in what should be a shamanic dance. Trance-like, meditative motions loom large, flowing on Wil Malone’s orchestration and sizzling sitar, in the desert mirage of “The Seventh Sojourn” – only to be obliterated with “Strange Brew” whose piano-propelled stampede stumbles upon desperate incantations and unfold cathartically into a Sisyphus sort of uplift, while pastoral tones woven into “A Fleeting Glance” turn it into a chorale-stricken tapestry.
The album is that rich in its scope – majestic even – and that’s where its mystery is, in the band’s eventual acceptance of their multicolored psyche.