(Metal Blade 2017)
Honestly, Sorcerer are one of the best stories in heavy metal in the last few years. The Swedish epic doom merchants recorded two legendary demos in the late 1980s and early 1990s that surfaced in 1995 in the form of a compilation CD, the very first release on John Perez’s Brainticket label. (By the way, John Perez knows a thing or two about epic doom metal, being the founder/guitarist/mastermind of the almighty Solitude Aeturnus.) After recording these demos (which are still revered by doom worshipers worldwide), Sorcerer disappeared for nearly two decades, with bassist Johnny Hagel moving on to Tiamat and vocalist Anders Engberg becoming a bit of a journeyman, working with bands like Lion’s Share, Twilight and Therion. Then in 2010, Hagel and Engberg reformed Sorcerer with new musicians, including guitarists Kristian Niemann (ex-Therion) and shortly thereafter, Peter Hallgren. Improbably, this newly configured version of Sorcerer not only rekindled the magic of those classic demos, but somehow managed to refine and hone their craft to an even higher level. Indeed, since reforming, the Stockholm-based band has reeled off a winning streak of truly epic proportions, releasing a jaw-dropping album entitled In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross in 2015 and an equally worthy EP called Black a few months later. Now Metal Blade Records has unveiled Sorcerer’s new album, The Crowning of the Fire King.
Perhaps the best way to describe The Crowning of the Fire King is simply this: It is a dream come true for devotees of the melodic, epic, grandiose doom style pioneered by the likes of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus. The album faithfully honors the hallmarks of the genre, from the monolithic, dirge-like riffs of Niemann and Hallgren to the solemn, hypnotic tempos to the sprawling song structures (four tracks exceed the eight-minute mark) to foreboding lyrics about unheard prayers, drifting into nothingness, darkness devouring our souls, and unbearable sorrow. Of course, for the epic doom style to be executed effectively, world-class vocals are a must. Well, Anders Engberg is a truly elite singer, boasting a spine-tingling combination of power, range, emotion and control, without sounding like a clone of anyone. I’ve long been a fan of Engberg’s work, but my goodness he has outdone himself on The Crowning of the Fire King with a positively captivating performance that cements his status as one of the finest vocalists in the world. And the songwriting on this record is uniformly excellent. At 10 songs and 70 minutes, The Crowning of the Fire King does require a certain degree of patience and persistence; however, the listener’s diligence is rewarded with a collection of elegant, magnificent songs whose strengths are revealed slowly, inexorably with each successive spin. It’s a testament to Sorcerer’s ridiculously high quality level of the songwriting that I seem to have a new favorite song each time I listen to the album. If I could only pick one track, though, I’d vote for “Unbearable Sorrow,” which positively nails the epic doom sound, feel and emotion better than anything I’ve heard in ages. I swear, this song pierces my heart every time I hear it. Simply soul-stirring stuff.
Listen, I know some have complained that The Crowning of the Fire King sticks too much to the same slow pace, without those sporadic speed bursts that other epic doom bands have used to such devastating effect. It’s true: Sorcerer lock into those dirge tempos and remain there. This is not music to put on the stereo to get fired up for a Saturday night house party. This is music made for a certain mood, a certain feeling, a certain spirit. When you are all alone and you feel the relentless darkness creeping over your soul, when the sun is obscured by blankets of impenetrable gray clouds, when your heart feels laden with sorrow and despair, and when you want music that is heavy and beautiful and glorious, but captures exactly the depth of emotion you feel, The Crowning of the Fire King is there. Sorcerer have delivered a simply stunning album that should forever guarantee their place as one of the most magnificent epic doom bands that ever lived. There are a number of very good doom bands walking in the hallowed footsteps of Candlemass and Solitude Aeturnus today, but Sorcerer are at the head of the pack, not so much following others as executing their own vision of what epic doom should be. Let’s not mince words: The Crowning of the Fire King is the doom album of the year. And it is one of the best albums of any stripe to see the light of day in 2017. One last note: Be sure and check out the European import digibook version of the album, which includes two extra tracks (“Disciples of the Dark” and “Bringer of Misery”) that are every bit as worthy as the eight songs on the regular US jewel case edition. Not sure why Metal Blade chose to stiff the U.S. market on those other two tunes, but they are well worth tracking down.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~