The Best Albums of 2016, #13

band0113. Opeth, Sorceress (Roadrunner)

The winding musical journey of Mikael Åkerfeldt continues to make its way through classic progressive rock on Opeth’s 12th album, which undoubtedly annoyed plenty of fans who wish he’d return to the doomy death metal of old. His decision to walk away from what fans wanted and toward what he wanted was the best decision Åkerfeldt has ever made, as three albums into that transition he has Opeth sounding more vital and varied than ever before. What gets me, though, is how many people complain, “but it’s not metal anymore, how can you include it on your metal list?!” Because that’s how whiny some metal fans can be. The truth is, the heaviness of Opeth’s music remains, but it’s more along the lines of classic Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Uriah Heep. But these days a lot of people think you have to sound closer to “extreme” metal to sound metal, which of course grinds my gears. Yes, there are plenty of mellow moments “Will O’ the Wisp” is the prettiest song Åkerfeldt has ever written, but the heavy quality has never left his music, and that dynamic Opeth now has feels far more rewarding than simply mimicking Blackwater Park again and again. I will admit, though, Sorceress is actually more rewarding the further off the metal grid he wanders, as he indulges his own progressive rock passions. Consider it moving forward by looking back. Ever the student of 1970s progressive rock, Åkerfeldt, he has gone back to his biggest influences – Camel, Genesis, Jethro Tull – and has found a way to use those vintage sounds to forge subtler-sounding path. The sterling first half of ‘Sorceress’ plays into all Opeth’s many strengths, juxtaposing darker, harsher moods with introspective, folk-inspired fare, serving as a precursor to a jazzier, more adventurous second half, as “Strange Brew” and “A Fleeting Glance” head in more abstract directions. All the while it still feels like an Opeth record, still capable of plenty of moments of dark, haunting beauty and majestic guitar work. As strong as Sorceress is, it’s also another reminder of how heavy metal is plenty capable of deriving its power from melody and restraint than simple extremity for extremity’s sake.