'Lamenting Of The Innocent' Review: Sorcerer returns with dark visions of witch hunts and human suffering
The Swedish doom peddlers Sorcerer will be releasing their third studio album (via Metal Blade Records) called 'Lamenting Of The Innocent' on May 29. The popular metal group successfully blends Candlemass-style epic doom with shades of Iron Maiden to serve up a unique treat for lovers of doom metal. They originally formed in 1989, disbanded in 1992 and then reformed in 2010.
They subsequently marked a triumphant return to the metal scene with their 2017 album, 'The Crowning Of The Fire King'. Thanks to the rave reviews they received for that effort, the doom lords returned to the studio to conjure up their new concept album 'Lamenting Of The Innocent'. According to vocalist Anders Engberg, the album's theme revolves around the witch hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries.
While the songs are individual stories, they all revolve around the book, 'Hammer Of The Witches' written by Swedish author Henricus Institoris. "We more or less dwelled on the human condition aspect, like the stages of grief or mourning. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We thought this could be applied because the witch craze was, in a sense, a mass trauma on multiple individuals," says Kristian Niemann, the band's guitarist.
Niemann also revealed that the band had evolved on this album. "Some parts are heavier and faster compared to what we’ve done before while some other parts are softer and more mellow. We wanted our sound to expand in every direction. It's important to have great melodies, an ambient big sound, heavy badass riffs and a big epic chorus — that's a Sorcerer song in a nutshell."
The band's lineup has also changed with bassist Justin Biggs and former drummer Richard Evensand (who recorded with Sorcerer on their '90s demo) joining forces on this effort with longstanding members Anders Engberg (vocals), and the original guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren.
'Lamenting Of The Innocent' sees the band letting their influences shine through, breaking up the epic doom with flavors of prog, post-metal, classic heavy metal and hard rock. In Engberg's words, "We play music that relates to when we grew up, with bands like Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Candlemass, Iron Maiden and such. They are all influences and we like to build that dramatic touch into our music."
The ominous prelude 'Persecution' lasts just under a minute, merely serving as the aperitif. We then lurch into 'Hammer Of The Witches' which announces an onslaught of traditional doom, doling out a heavy serving of riffage topped off with Anders Engberg channeling Tony Martin in his prime. The song talks about Catholic churches and knights riding through the country to put all witches on trial.
Soaring singing lines punctuated by the guttural group chant "Burn, Witch, Burn" further solidify this track. Peter Hallgren and Kristian Niemann flex their soloing prowess with plenty of fast runs and harmonic artistry throughout. At a little under nine minutes, 'Lamenting Of The Innocent' is the longest song on the album. The title track opens with the sounds of howling wind, a crackling fire, and chanting, which paves the way for a huge riff and slow throbbing drums.
Anders announces his entry with low mellow lines before bursting into the melody sung an octave higher. "Fire reaching for the sky / There are no more tears to cry / The lamenting of the innocent," sings Anders as bassist Justin Biggs pitches in with growling vocals. The solos are delicious with both Niemann and Hallgren churning out exemplary guitar play and harmonizing effortlessly.
While 'Lamenting of the Innocent' strides the melodic path, 'Institoris' is a breakaway into more dirty, doomy territory. This track inspired by the author Henricus Institoris boasts of a dirty, grimy riff complemented by dark lyrics crafted by bassist Justin Biggs. Breaks that are reminiscent of Black Sabbath with heavily accented minor fifths and slow pounding drums give way to exquisite guitar solos that are hauntingly beautiful.
'Where Spirits Die' continues the band's outing into traditional doom territory with a Tony Iommi-esque riff and Anders' soaring vocals. The track then maintains the looming sense of dread with the dragging tempo, chunky riffs, and guttural wailing and also includes some incendiary back-to-back solos by the dueling guitarists.
'Deliverance' features stand-out vocals from Johan Langquist (Candlemass) and brilliant atmospherics from cellist Svante Henryson. "They truly brought another dimension to that song and now it's impossible to imagine it without their contributions," Engberg revealed. Nicely tucked in halfway through the album, 'Deliverance' blends acoustic guitars and cello work with occasional orchestral percussion, serving as a lovely sonic breather on this hard-hitting album.
'Age Of The Damned' serves as a reminder that at their core, Sorcerer is all about mean, chunky riffs. As a complete contrast to 'Deliverance', 'Age Of The Damned' hits you in the face with chugging guitars, pounding drums, and snarling vocals. The influence of Ronnie James Dio is evident, as Anders pushes his voice to the limits, wailing over the underlying churn of the band's music. "Can you hear them crying in the light", sings Anders as the chaos slowly winds down to an ambiance of swirling guitar trails.
An ominous bell chime and Gregorian monk-style chanting usher in 'Condemned'. The song is about an accused witch awaiting her death and the agony she feels while witnessing her funeral pyre being built. Niemann and Hallgren play hauntingly complementary harmonies on this track and showcase their exemplary musicality. The transition from slow doom to heavy galloping sections are brilliantly held together by drummer Richard Evensand, whose thundering rolls and quick fills accentuate the drudgy pace. Anders thrills with his stellar key changes and vocal transitions and that venomous acoustic outro is the icing on the cake.
'Dance With The Devil' tricks you with the slow intro before exploding into a frenzied chant that surprises and delights. The track oscillates between Anders' storytelling and a shuddering collision of battering riffs and drums. This track also features some incredible guitar solo work, all done to a waltz tempo that makes this a unique listening experience. Evensand's skills are on display again as the musicians effortlessly switch tempos and intensity, a hallmark of bandmates who understand one another very well.
Album closer 'Path To Perdition' is perhaps the most ambitious track lyrically, belonging to the anger stage of grieving. It describes the locals dragging the priest from the confines of his sanctuary and eventually throwing him on the pyre that had claimed many innocent people.
According to the band, "It describes their appetite for revenge and, we feel, justifies or affirms the act of their vengeance. In the middle of the song, there is an interlude of sorts, where it describes what the priest is going through. We wanted it to be a contrast to his divine delusion of grandeur. Making sure that he wouldn't cross into the afterlife, into heaven, but rather transcend into a realm of nightmares tailored to his own depravity." It's a dark and macabre song indeed, and a fitting stamp on an epic & enthralling album.
All in all, this is the richest and most intense Sorcerer offering to date and opens the next exciting chapter for one of Sweden’s finest exports. Looking ahead to where they would like to be a year from now, their intent is simple: "Touring Europe, Asia, and the US, making sure people get a chance to see Sorcerer live. That is our main priority for the upcoming year," says Engberg. 'Lamenting Of The Innocent' definitely feels like the turning point for the spectacular Swedes and promises to be an absolute delight for doom-mongers and fans of epic heavy metal.