Opeth - Watershed
Roadrunner Records
Opeth Metal
7 songs (54.56)
Release year: 2008
Opeth, Roadrunner Records
Reviewed by Aleksie
Album of the month
Opeth's ninth studio album begins with gentle acoustic guitars and Mikael Åkerfeldt mournfully using his clean vox to great effects. When the tempo slows down a bit, you just start to wait for the inevitable explosion of heaviness where you can symbolically commit seppuku and thrash like mad, but no, not yet. Coil remains a short and subtle acoustic ballad with enchanting female vocals and all, and one who hasn’t been watching at any grainy preview clips from Utube or even read any anticipatory writings, could wonder if the band has went and pulled another Damnation on us. Not that it would be a bad thing, but it would have been surprising.

However, this assumption is broken when Heir Apparent kicks off with a monstrous, almost doomy dirge that forces you neck to commence warm up routines. But just as you begin to raise your fists, silence falls and only the slow melodic weaving of the piano is left, until the dirge of guitars and drums begins again, followed by Åke’s magnificent growl, strong as always. Of course, I’m preaching to the choir when it comes to people who know Opeth already. Quick twists of tempo, mood and structure are the norm for the band. But on Watershed, I feel their skills for employing drastic switches of dynamics have been pushed further than ever before. Heir alone goes from flamenco-tinged groove jams to double-bass firing of massive proportions. I feel that some of the song’s riffs even have an Emperor-feel in them. Great stuff.

The Lotus Eaters is probably my favourite track on the record and this is where it gets really schizophrenic. From the quietly hummed intro the band goes to full-on blast beats with Mikael using his clean voice on top, which sounds extremely good combined. Enjoyably moshable mid-tempo with plenty of rock-vibes follow. Great guitar solos fly all over the place. After a short acoustic section, Per Wiberg’s keyboards and organs then take the forefront and do a dropping chord after which…I did not see it coming. The band breaks into a full-fledged jazzy funk-jam, which is insidiously groovy. Opeth goes funk – fan-fucking-tastic! Not just that, but the keyboard riff on top resembles the soundtracks of NES-game classics like the Mega Man and Castlevania series. And I love both of those too! No, the sound of the keyboard isn’t all 8-bit drenched, but the melody has it. All that is missing are the Mega Buster and Rush (the mechanical dog, not the band – although Rush the band in Mega Man would be beyond world-exploding awesomness…I digress). A shame that the section ended so quickly. And before you have shaken the twisting hips off of yourself, they have already started a ghostly ramming part reminiscent of King Diamond, just with growling instead of howling. The whole song is brought to an end with subtle organs and flurries of speech filling the soundscape. Awesome track, probably my song of the year thus far.

After such a thrill ride of emotions, Burden appropriately slows it down with a very beautiful track driven by acoustics and atmospheric keyboards. Åkerfeldt and new guitarist Fredrik Åkesson trade of some brilliant guitar leads in the tune, showing in a detailed sense how well Åkesson seems to be gelling in the band. Of course, making his studio debut with Opeth, drummer Martin “Axe” Axenrot, blows my mind as well. Luckily I am not a drummer, so unlike some friends of the trade I have, I can’t really tell if his dynamic abilities suck compared to Martin Lopez, the previous skinsman of the group. All I know is that Axe sounds magnificent in both the mellow and crushing tunes. His background in black metal does show overall, as I do feel that the general touch in the drumming is more brutal. Just a feeling. The ending of Burden is confusing to say the least, as it sounds like the guys are detuning the acoustic guitar as it is being played. More interesting experimentation.

I’d say the final three tracks take care of the most traditionally Opeth-sounding tunes, at least as far as the proggyness goes. Porcelain Heart is mostly a mid-tempo burner, while Hessian Peel takes over the mammoth-spot on the record, clocking in at eleven and a half minutes. The latter displays some nice Eastern-tinged melodic patterns and also features some of the dreaded backwards-speaking, which I think here is an homage to the well-known Led Zeppelin subliminal message-story. A friend of mine played the part backwards and it has Mikael clearly saying “my sweet satan, I see you”, which allegedly can be found when playing Stairway To Heaven backwards. A nice little tribute. Hex Omega caps the album with a heavy riff-monster, with a mind-blowing, epic groove in the outro. The organs at the very end feel like the ones you would hear in a church. It is only fitting, as listening to this album could surely be a religious experience for some. I wouldn’t be surprised, because it is damn good.

Does this album live up to its name, being a watershed in Opeth’s career? It could very well be. Their sound is more refined than ever and the experimental parts keep on coming from different directions. The woodwinds found in many songs were a seriously nice touch to the atmospherics. A brass horn section next? I can only dream, as combined with the group’s ability to go funky, the results could be sizzling (a cover of Tower Of Power’s Soul With A Capital S, please!). The record seems to be very successful as well, racking up the band its first Finnish #1 chart spot, among many other good positions. Many who have criticized this album have been disappointed with what I’m sensing is “Opeth losing its raw edge”. Ambiguity notwithstanding, I do believe that objectively considered, that is very true. This is not the band that eviscerated our senses with proggy death with some mellow interludes thrown in on the albums up until My Arms Your Hearse. The brutality is still here, but not as the main course, rather as a big helping in a huge pot of refined proggy goodness. Those early albums have seriously grown on me, but I personally feel the Opeth today is better than ever as a creative entity. Watershed is a magnificent addition to their spotless track record, and with time, it could even become their best yet.

Killing Songs :
All of 'em!
Aleksie quoted 94 / 100
Jason quoted 93 / 100
Goat quoted 95 / 100
James quoted 88 / 100
Other albums by Opeth that we have reviewed:
Opeth - In Cauda Venenum reviewed by Goat and quoted 70 / 100
Opeth - Sorceress reviewed by Goat and quoted 65 / 100
Opeth - Pale Communion reviewed by Goat and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Heritage reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 95 / 100
Opeth - Orchid reviewed by James and quoted 79 / 100
To see all 15 reviews click here
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