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Opeth - "Watershed" (CD)

Opeth - "Watershed" CD cover image

"Watershed" track listing:

1. Coil (3:07)
2. Heir Apparent (8:51)
3. The Lotus Eater (8:48)
4. Burden (7:42)
5. Porcelain Heart (8:01)
6. Hessian Peel (11:26)
7. Hex Omega (6:59)

Reviewed by on June 17, 2008

"Like 'Damnation' before it, the newest album from the Swedish metal giants defies all expectations and moves in completely new and wholly unexpected directions."

"Watershed" is going to be a highly divisive album for fans of Opeth. Like "Damnation" before it, the newest album from the Swedish metal giants defies all expectations and moves in completely new and wholly unexpected directions. Speculation swirled about that the loss of longtime guitarist Peter Lindgren and drummer Martin Lopez would irrevocably alter Opeth’s sound, and to an extent the rumor mill was correct for once. Opeth has created an entirely new sound for themselves, although it is decisively embedded in what has come before, building up an innovative and fresh approach to music without completely forgetting their past masterpieces. Just shy of an hour long, "Watershed" presents many challenging songs that will confront metal fans with questions of just how progressive a band can truly get while staying true to their foundations.

What the two sample songs streamed online prior to the album’s actual release didn’t reveal was the subtle change of tone occurring in "Watershed." All of Opeth’s previous albums could have been classified as melodic death metal that also happened to be progressive. "Watershed" is decidedly more of a progressive work that also happens to be melodic death metal. There are plenty of firsts for the band found here, starting immediately with the opening track "Coil," which features drummer Martin Axenrot’s fiancé Nathalie Lorichs performing female vocals with front man Mikael Akerfeldt. Some of these new tricks work better than others. The odd opening and ending moments of "The Lotus Eater," featuring strange humming and layers of people talking and laughing are interesting musical devices, but they seem a little out of place. This problem is compounded by the band’s decision to not include lyrics with the album insert, so the context that these devices are found in is not readily apparent. An even more radical approach is taken on the song "Burden," when keyboardist Per Wiberg has a seventies style pipe organ solo. It works within the boundaries of the individual song, but it would have completely ruined the feel of any of the older albums if it had been used before.

Despite the presence of "Heir Apparent," which is probably the band’s single heaviest and most brutal death metal song, "Watershed" is easily one of Opeth’s most mellow albums when considered as a whole. Akerfeldt had stated in several interviews before the album’s release that "Watershed" would be Opeth’s angriest work to date. It may hold some kind of personal anger apparent to the band, but anyone not familiar with their inner thoughts will be left wondering where all the powerful and hate-filled growling went. "Watershed" hasn’t completely left behind the Opeth that fans knew and loved, however. There are plenty of guitar riffs that sound sufficiently like "Blackwater Park" or "Ghost Reveries," and even though there are blast beats on "The Porcelain Heart," Axenrot’s drumming frequently sounds like it could have come from jazz-influenced Martin Lopez himself. Several of the new changes even improve on the base that has been built up by prior efforts. The acoustic guitar accompanied by tragically gentle keyboards on "Hessian Peel" could move even the most hardened of hearts to tears at the thought of how beautiful music can be.

For good or ill, Opeth has moved into a new era of music and there is little indication that they will ever look back. The fans will have to decide for themselves whether to grow alongside the band, or abandon their new approach and wistfully long for the glory days of old.

Highs: Has Opeth's most brutal song to date, and frequently builds on the trademark Opeth sound to create something completely new

Lows: Some of the more progressive elements seem a little out of place

Bottom line: Watershed is Opeth's most progressive work to date.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)