Release: In The Shadow Of The Inverted Cross
Label: Metal Blade
It’s now 2015, 23 years since famed Swedish doomers Sorcerer released the second of their two demos, their only output aside from some compilations until now. Their demo material has already made them among the most widely acclaimed names in epic doom metal, and I was at once excited and a bit concerned to find that they were recording new material. I was glad there would be more Sorcerer, but far too many comeback albums are only shadows of former glory. Ultimately my mixed feelings leading up to this album’s release were mostly met with pleasant surprise; In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross is a fine album, but at times it does not capture the epic, mystical formula that made classic Sorcerer classic.
In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross has some big shoes to fill following demos with such a legacy. Returning from the lineup that recorded the venerated self-titled demo are vocalist Anders Engberg and bassist Johnny Hagel, now accompanied by drummer Robert Iversen and guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgreen. Losing more than half of the band might have been a bad sign, but the whole lineup offers a solid performance. The most immediately striking performance is Engberg’s vocal work. He has plenty of range and power and uses it to his fullest, bringing to mind Rob Lowe and other soaring doom vocalists; his voice was effective on the demos and it is here.
Generally the pacing of the album relates inversely with its quality. There are two faster songs, “Exorcise the Demon” and “The Gates of Hell,” punctuating a work that otherwise remains mid-paced or slower. The former is an awkward transition from the steady march of “Lake of the Lost Souls” and it throws off the pacing somewhat. The latter feels more like glossy power metal than anything else when it reaches the chorus. “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” is the obvious single here, taking on a mid-paced march and functioning as somewhat of an anthem for the band, unfortunately to the detriment of the atmosphere an opener should set.
Perhaps I’m being hypocritical, since I love “Northern Seas” from their demo compilations, but the album is best where it slows down and embraces its doom roots. “Lake of the Lost Souls” is the best track on here, eight and a half minutes of glacially paced riffs that sound like Scald would have with clean production, and the sprawling epic stands with the best of Sorcerer’s material of any era. “Prayers for a King” strikes a similar chord, and the band does a fine job of conjuring images of Vikings, just like in the demo days. In the interest of avoiding monotony I can understand varying the pacing, but Sorcerer are a doom metal band and might as well have embraced that identity wholeheartedly.
Where Sorcerer remembers that they’re a doom metal band, they shine, but unfortunately the high bar they set in the best parts of the album is not reached throughout. If you’re a big fan of epic doom this is an album worth picking up, but other than isolated tracks it won’t be the album to get you into the style.