Thinking back over Opeth's lengthy discography the tipping of the scales started with 2008's "Watershed", the last album to include Death Metal vocals and aggressive guitar craft as the band progressed more towards their Progressive Rock roots. Since then their form has been shaky and the movement to a lighter sound hasn't been accompanied by the same greatness once associated with them. That's not to say they have been putting out bad records but having given "Heritage" and "Pale Communion" plenty of time they both have yielded no songs of memorability. This time around Opeth's distinct musical style Akerfeldt's particular voice find a spark that illuminates a couple of tracks that are hard hard to shake off.
A couple of memorable tracks doesn't save it from moments of mediocrity and as the band creep backwards with a slightly more metallic tone, they only encapsulate the energy it can bring in a couple of moments, the denser tone is otherwise is a noisy presence for underwhelming riffs, or is it the other way around? Underwhelming distortion for the gravity of guitar work. In many acoustic moments there is a lack of punch and potency in melody that leads many songs into needless lulls. In counterpart when the guitars are more prominent and Akerfeldt is in his own, the gentle moments can be swooning with soft organ humming under light chord strumming and calming drumming.
For a fan my biggest issue is perhaps the familiarity with the Opeth vibe which has somewhat stagnated from a point just after the turn of the millennium. When wavering between captivating moments and musical lulls what sparks are found feel all to familiar and so the ineffective "heavier" tone feels underwhelming in comparison to whats been achieved before. "Chrysalis" for example could easily of been gritted up with stronger distortion and some bellowing death growls to sound like a song from "Still Life". Instead its hard hitting organs bring the attitude and drag it to lively lead climax which drops out into a colorful, soothing acoustic lead out which again feels underwhelming with a lack of omph from the acoustic guitar tone.
Its a strange record, feeling very close to being smart and brilliant yet its punctuation and aesthetic leaves it hanging precariously between a formula that worked so well for them before and a venture into new territory which yields so little inventiveness. Fortunately there is enough substance for the record to be enjoyed and enjoyable it certainly is, perhaps just a little bitter sweet with a constant feeling that this step back in lineage shouldn't of been a half step. One thing I don't miss is Akerfeldt's death growls. As beastly and demonically gorgeous as they are his whispering vocals and infectious melodies continue to swoon and make highlight of the music.
Favorite Tracks: Sorceress, The Wilde Flowers, Will O The Wisp, Sorceress 2, The Seventh Sojourn