I wish there were more bands fighting to claim the mantle of melodic doom made essential by bands like Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus. In most cases bands tend to slip too far over to either pure doom or more traditional metal. Striking that balance between incredible riffs, melodies and solos while maintaining keep your feet firmly planted in a solemn doom foundation is tough. Unless you happen to be Sorcerer, who can seemingly pull head banging, fist pumping anthems to the heavy out of thin air on their newest album The Crowning of the Fire King.
This shouldn’t be a surprise looking back at their history. Originally conceived in 1988 by Johnny Hagel the band released two well received demos before disbanding in 1992, with Hagel going on to join Tiamat. Those two demos apparently made an impact with the right people, specifically John Perez of Solitude Aeternus, who re-issued the demos in 1995 and again in 2011 in a remastered, expanded version. At this point the band had re-formed for son one-off shows and festival appearances, although no new album was on the horizon.
That debut album would finally come in 2014. In the Shadow of the Inverted Cross was a wickedly assured dose of the kind of epic heavy doom metal largely absent from the world. Anchored by the quite frankly ridiculously good vocals of Anders Engberg, tracks like “The Dark Tower of the Sorcerer” and “Exorcise the Demon” are filled with classic palm muted chugging, harmonized leads, and myulti-layered vocals that recalled the best of the genre in the late 80s and early 90s without sounding dated. The Black EP, comprised of leftovers from the sessions showed that even the stuff that didn’t make the cut had merit. Had the new album simply followed the same formula we’d probably still be talking about it as a fresh, invigorating shot in the arm for traditional doom metal.
Instead, The Crowning of the Fire King doubles down on the heavy riffs and manages to improve on literally every aspect of its predecessor. Opener “Sirens” is an instant anthem: the opening riff immediately gets your head thrashing, the verses alternating between mid-paced gallops and harmonized lines that slide into their positions with an eerie grace. Throughout “Sirens” and the whole album Engber’s vocals are equal parts majestic and sinister – there’s a grit and bite that temper the more operatic moments which keep things from ever getting out of hand. It’s my favorite type of vocal performance – I’d compare it to Russell Allen in Symphony X, who can sing over the more symphonic elements of that band’s repertoire without it ever sounding overwrought.
Whether Sorcerer is stomping boot to floor with tracks like “Abandoned by the Gods” and “Crimson Cross” or settling into something more somber like “The Devil’s Incubus” or the short instrumental segue “Nattvaka” the musicianship and production is stellar. Solos abound, each one stretching and working perfectly within the context of the song. There’s a cohesion to The Crowning of the Fire King that makes for an incredible start to finish listen without the album sounding like its running in place. All of this comes together on the title track, where stately arpeggios ring underneath chanting vocals, guitars merge and soar and the song moves relentlessly forward in a doomed march. It’s a powerful centerpiece, made even better by the fact it’s reinforced with fantastic songwriting on every track.
You can see all the reasons why Metal Blade picked Sorcerer up – this is metal made pure and powerful, without regard for trends and fashion that come and go with the seasons. It may have taken over 20 years for Sorcerer to get moving, but The Crowning of the Fire King shows it was more than worth the wait.*