Opeth – Sorceress: Album Stream

The Swedish prog-metal veterans continue branching out into uncharted territories with Sorceress, their 12th album, being their most diverse yet. We stream the record a day before official release and sat down with frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt

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When I meet Mikael Åkerfeldt in the lobby of Barcelona's stunning Hotel Porta Fira, he resonates a relaxed, cool demeanour. Having just received the final masters of the new Opeth record, he seems content, wearing a broad smile and sunglasses. We may be indoors, but the shades aren’t a sign of any rock-star prima donna bulls**t; instead Åkerfeldt informs me he's merely hungover from watching Wales unexpectedly trounce Belgium in the 2016 World Cup Semi-finals the previous night; apparently the celebrations spilt out on to one of Barcelona's many beautiful beaches until the early hours of the morning. Sore heads or not, we're here to discuss Sorceress, the beguiling new observation from Opeth that see’s the band continue to push their music into uncharted territoires. The album, released via Nuclear Blast on Friday 30th September, is available to stream pre-release below.

In keeping with Opeth’s most recent output, Sorceress continues the band's exploration of new ideas and avenues within the prog/jazz sphere they’ve orbited ever since 2011’s Heritage. The varied elements that make up the 57 minutes of music on Sorceress showcase a band not willing to stand still or paint themselves into a corner, something that should come as no surprise to the bands large contingent of assorted fans. ‘I wanted it to be diverse,’ says Åkerfeldt ‘I didn't want any two songs to sound alike. If I had a heavy song, I would deliberately write something completely different when it came to the next one. There's a few things in there that I don't think we've ever done before, no crazy Hip-Hop beats or anything like that but a few things that I think sound really new and fresh. Even the things on there that are more vintage Opeth sound fresh to my ears. Whether people will love it or hate it, I'm not sure, there'll be bits that a person loves and then bits that same person will hate, but that's business as usual for us.’ 

Sorceress is a smorgasbord of various elements that have proliferated through-out Opeth’s career; jazz, prog, psychedelia, acoustic fingerpicking and doom-laden riffs all coalesce in a beautiful kaleidoscope of genres. It’s a far cry from the band’s roots as merely a progressive death metal band (albeit, a thouroughly exciting and original one). ‘My taste in music is very eclectic,’ says Åkerfeldt. ‘I listen to and draw inspiration from so many different styles of music and I wanted the album to sound like the things I love listening to but to put our stamp on it as well. I make sure that whatever genre we turn our hand to, it ends up sounding authentic; if we're doing something jazzy, I don't want it to sound like metal guys trying to play jazz. I think we managed that, it sounds good and everyone in the band’s taste is so diverse, as musicians we can jump between styles without much effort.’

Not many metal bands are able to spread their wings into such a diverse array of different styles in such a genuine way, so it’s credit to Åkerfeldt’s taste and vast vinyl collection that Opeth are able to broaden out the way that they have. ‘We’re not really afraid to branch out’ he says. ‘For a lot of bands, it’s a smart move to stick with the sound that they start with, especially if you're getting good feedback from it and that becomes your career or your job. But I get so restless and bored, it's only a matter of time before I feel like it's saturated and I want to move on to the next thing. Most metal bands don't think like that I guess, they want to keep their fan base and be recognised as a band that sounds a certain way. But I like it when people can’t define how we sound, it provides a freedom for the band and we can custom make a set list depending on where we're playing. I made a vow to myself in the early days that I wasn’t going to put any limits on what we can do with this band, which comes from my problem with authority in a way because I don't like people telling me what to do. And since this band is technically my creation, it would be stupid to put limitations on it. But for a lot of bands, once they become popular and have a career, they get scared of losing it.’

The irony of course, is that metal is a genre that, by definition, shouldn’t be restrained or confined by such things as silly as genre limitations, a concept that historically, the old guard of denim and leather metal-meat-heads find difficult to comprehend. ‘That rebellious spirit that should be prevalent in metal is almost non-existent now, especially with established bands’ says Åkerfeldt. ‘Sometimes a debut may come out that blows people away but once bands start playing it safe, that rebellious spirit disappears somewhere along the line. The reason we sound the way we do is because that's the way we want to sound. Nothing is fixed or carved in stone in terms of the way we sound because I don't want to feel too comfortable within our style, whatever that is these days.’

The themes of Sorceress are dark, as is to be expected from an Opeth record, with the lyrical motifs touched upon being universal and well-trodden, although the approach to these themes is less conventional. ‘This album is really a love record, but not in a nice flowery way, it’s more about obsession and paranoia, many of those negative emotions that come with loving someone. Fear of losing them, fear of them passing away, fear of everything that comes with a relationship. There are two title tracks on the record that come at the subject from different sides; Sorceress 1 is quite a negative lyric whilst Sorceress 2 is quite a positive but sad type of lyric and I connected it with the title because falling in love is like having a f**king spell cast on you! You don't think rationally sometimes, you go crazy and you have these weird thoughts and start to panic. A lot of it relates back to my private life and that’s what came out when I wrote the lyrics.’

Opeth are rarely a band who look backwards but 2015 saw the 25th anniversary of the band, which they commemorated with the release of the Book of Opeth, an exhaustive illustrative chronology of the history of the band made up of transcripts with band members past and present. ‘It was a nostalgic thing to do obviously and there's a lot of fun memories but there seems to be more bad memories than good. Whenever I look back, I think, 'F**k, I hated those days!' I have to think back to the very beginnings of the band for the good memories, where the innocence was intact and we were just a couple of young guys who wanted to play music. That's all we had back in those days, the mutual love of playing and finding our feet as a band. Once bands start putting out records, that's where all the problems start. There's always money problems, you have no money basically, and you get delays and hard work and internal strife, all those kind of things. We had a s**t load of stuff happening in this band that we don't really talk about, so often people think that we're saints, but in reality it's been a rocky road for us. People make up their own minds about how we are as people and usually if somebody's going to get the blame for something, it's going to be me! But if people read that book, maybe they’ll understand a little bit more about how we work as a band and how we are as people.’

This naturally leads to the question of what period of the band Åkerfeldt felt was the darkest? ‘That's pretty easy, it was around the recording of Deliverance, we had a horrible time in the studio and that’s where we started falling apart. There were lots of problems within the band and I’d had a death in the family too, so I was not in a good frame of mind during that year or two. I wanted to quit, I wanted to stop the band completely but I'm glad I didn't!’ 

Deliverance and Damnation, Opeth’s fifth and sixth records, were recorded at the same time after Jonas Renkse, frontman of Katatonia and long-time friend of Åkerfeldt’s suggested that he write two records that were counterpoints to one another; the results were two sides of a bitter catharsis that resulted from the internal strife and pressures the band were under. Deliverance contains the heaviest and bleakest material of the band’s career, whilst Damnation delivered a haunting wistful acoustic-led sense of desolation that the band had not previously explored and was debatably the beginning of Opeth breaking free from the shackles of being labeled just a metal band. ‘I was more interested in working on the Damnation record because up to that point, we'd never done anything like that. I tend to think that I have better memories of the Damnation recording than I do Deliverance, which is odd because they were recorded at the same time. Deliverance just felt like I had to throw something together to deliver a counterweight to Damnation.’

The band will re-visit this dark period in November when they play their largest headline show to date at London’s Wembley Arena. Despite Opeth ploughing their way through some of London’s most prestigious and legendary venues including Brixton Academy, Drury Lane Theatre and most notably Royal Albert Hall, Åkerfeldt’s nerves are beginning to get the better of him. ‘I'm a little scared of that night because that venue is so big but it’s selling really well and when it was first announced I thought that would never happen! But obviously there is an interest in the band and we started our international career in London, it was our first live show in a different capital (at the Astoria, appropriately enough on Halloween, 1995). But this isn’t a show we're doing because the demand is so high we need to play a f**king massive venue, it's more a promotional tool; once you play at Wembley, people are like, 'Wow!' But it doesn’t feel like we’re playing Wembley, it feels like Wembley is playing us!’

Sorceress, the 12th observation by Opeth, is released via Nuclear Blast on Friday 30th September. Tickets for their show at Wembley Arena on 19th November are available now.