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Opeth: Watershed

Watershed is the ninth Opeth album; and in some ways it signifies a new start for them. This is not totally surprising, given the band has a new guitarist and a new drummer now. Also, they they seem to be in a transition phase musically because Watershed, while encompassing lots of their past hallmarks, also delves into new musical territory.

The differences are mainly demonstrated in their impenetrable song structures, as Mikael Akerfeldt has constructed the album in a more evocative way this time time around. Unlike any other Opeth album, Watershed begins with the short acoustic track "Coil", where strummed acoustic guitars and beautifully arranged string work form the leeway for Akerfeldt and female guest singer Nathalie Lorichs to deliver the verses in an addictively melodic tone. Lorichs' vocals are amazing, and while the song clocks in at only three minutes, that's its charm.

Overall, Watershed is no where near as heavy as the previous Opeth discs, as it boasts a more experimental aesthetic throughout. However, the second track "Heir Apparent" is arguably the heaviest, most brutal Opeth song to date. Not only is it crushingly heavy, it is also the first Opeth tune with no clean vocals whatsoever. Sure, they have other tracks like "Blackwater Park", "Wreath", "The Amen Corner", and "April Ethereal" among others, but all of them contain some clean backing vocals, whispers, humming, et cetera whilst "Heir Apparent" is delivered with Akerfeldt's unmistakable growls from start to finish. Occupied by an assault of guitar fury in its chaotic intro, the piece contains laser-precise drumming and Akerfeldt's suffocating vocals that are contrasted by deft string work and clean, psychedelic-like guitar harmonies soaring over Axenrot's percussion. The ending to the song is equally baffling: smooth layers of guitar melodies overlapping each other.

New drummer Martin Axenrot will pleasantly surprise many an Opeth fan with his performance here. Not only does he play with admirable restraint on most of the album, but he also proves how capable a drummer is on "The Lotus Eater", which is another sound experiment for the band. The drumming on this dissonant tune is stupifyingly good, perhaps among Opeth's finest. Certainly the most technical song on the disc, it features blast beats over which Akerfeldt sings with clean vocals and then growls atop rapid-fire guitar riffery. Very interesting. The rhythm exercise of the song brims with energy, particularly during the instrumental break where guitars, drums and bass clash with each other without taking away from the composition.

Akerfeldt's love for the 70's is exemplified by the gorgeous ballad "Burden", whose main melody is very similar to the stuff Dan Swano does on Unicorn's Emotional Wasteland album. A bit like the material on Damnation, this one sees Opeth branching off into pure balladry mode, with moving guitar solos and vocals. The ending is especially confusing, as Akerfeldt's guitar is manually detuned in the finale. They obviously did it to escape the mellow ballad mood of the tune, and it definitely sets it apart. Despite that weird ending, Opeth proves they can write the best songs in any genre.

This album contains some of Akerfeldt's most enigmatic and personal lyrics, hence the reason why they have been excluded from the booklet. "Hessian Peel", the only ten-plus-minute song on the album, is a total embodiment of Opeth's current musical and lyrical vision. From the sombre acoustic intro to the mournful clean vocals, it evokes a funereal atmosphere where Martin Mendez' bass stands out in the mix. Too bad the bass in Opeth has been almost inaudible since the band's Dan Swano-produced albums, but this track has a healthy dose of his bass throbbing beneath Axenrot's calculated drum battery and the guitar duo's smashing rhythm parts. The song also contains some backward lyrics, most notable between 2:03-2:22. Obviously a reference to Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven", the lyrics read: "Out of the courtyard | Come back tonight | My sweet Satan| I see you". It's a dark tune with ghostly bursts of atmosphere, and Per Wiberg's Mellotron sounds as well as the string arrangement further enhance the tune's power.

Great shifting of dynamics permeats "Porcelain Heart", the only track Akerfeldt co-wrote with Fredrik Akesson. This is perhaps the only song where polar opposites are merged in a single composition: hammering guitar riffs are side by side with oboes (speaking of which, there is plenty of flutes, oboes, cellos on this album -- all live, not keyboard generated) and Akerfeldt's shift from hellish growls to lullaby-like singing in the middle part attests to his diversity. This is perhaps his most haunting moment -- very emotive and heartfelt.

The album ends on a creepy note with "Hex Omega", a curious mix of waves of guitar dissonance, strings floating across the whole track, and a forlorn piano motif. The droney ending of the song lends it a very creepy feel as well.

Watershed to me is a transition from Ghost Reveries much the same way Still Life was from My Arms, Your Hearse. It was only with Blackwater Park when they fully achieved the sound they were aiming for, so I feel their next album may present a larger picture as to where they want to go musically. At any rate, this album is another worthy addition to Opeth's back catalog.

Track Listing

  1. Coil
  2. Heir Apparent
  3. The Lotus Eater
  4. Burden
  5. Porcelain Heart
  6. Hessian Peel
  7. Hex Omega

Added: August 29th 2008
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Opeth website
Hits: 4109
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Opeth: Watershed
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-08-28 21:09:42
My Score:


When Opeth first signed to Roadrunner Records there was scuttlebutt about the label interfering with the bands creative vision and ruining it for everyone as a result but despite this kind of talk the band gave us "Ghost Reveries" which was a stunning release. It was an album that presented new worlds of heaviness meets progginess to their fans and found them reaching for higher ground in terms of musical quality. The response that the release earned them made many wonder how the band could possibly hope to follow up the album and have the output be as good or impact the genre as much as this one had done and when you place "Watershed" in your CD player you will be happy to discover that the group has surpassed all expectations with flying colors. Such seems to be the common practice with a band like Opeth for they can never be referred to as a band of predictability or following the acceptable standard and instead make great strides in their material with each and every release. They are a band that has become as important to the Death Metal genre as Rush had become to the Progressive Rock genre so many decades ago. That being said, the scene and its ever changing geography are in excellent hands.

To discuss "Watershed" is not an easy task because the album is a rich tapestry of everything you have ever heard from Opeth before as well as sounds that you had hoped to hear them blend together as effortlessly as they seem to be able to do. It begins with the soothing "Coil", an acoustic number that finds Akerfeldt's clean vocal joined by the beautiful sounds of Nathalie Lorichs who provides him with a charming female counterpart for the albums introduction. The pace and nature of the opener is far different from anything Opeth had done as an album start and this will take some listeners by surprise. "Heir Apparent" hits you immediately after like a slow moving train as the song builds itself up. The riff is crushing but it pauses to allow some subtle piano from Per Winberg before picking up to a speed that we are very familiar with the band delivering. It's tight without question and will impress with the numerous different styles that are employed in it. We find some traditional Death Metal here that leads to an almost Folk ballad pause before the track gets back into the righteous smashing we had only heard moments before. The first single from the album was "The Lotus Eater" and while blistering at points the vocals are a fine blend of clean and growls that fight for position on the track. There are quite a few Progressive interludes happening with this one and with the rate they come at the listener they are sure to impress even the harshest critic. When this third track ends you are left with the early conclusion that this could be one of the best Metal releases of the year and you'll smile as you realize that you have four more to go through. The bands homage to classic Doom and Gloom Metal comes to the fore during "Porcelain Heart" and while the riffs trudge like a giant the drums of Axenrot stagger the imagination at times with their speed. He was clearly an amazing choice to replace the bands former drummer Lopez. Another stand out and new addition comes in the way of new guitarist Fredrik Akesson who was most recently seen in Arch Enemy before coming on board with Opeth.

While all of the songs are rather lengthy and run about eight minutes on average outside of "Coil", it is "Hessian Peel" that is to be considered the epic as this one runs past the eleven minute mark. The track begins with acoustics and a Folk feel. The tune remains as a seemingly subtle number for a few minutes but when it gets to just below six minutes it changes direction and comes off like a completely different song. The listener is not expected to "get" this album right away because there is just too much to absorb and are advised to listen to it a couple of times straight through to allow it to work its magic on your musical processing center. It seems as though Opeth is continuing to push the envelope and explore new ground with their music and remind us about just how creative a Metal band can be when they set their minds to it. This is a release that deserves both accolades and applause and I congratulate Mr. Akerfeldt for doing it once again. If you are a fan of Prog, Metal, Rock, Funk, Folk or all of the above then you will find all of this presented to you on this intelligent and brilliant release. Thank you Opeth for once again leaving me speechless.

The only downside is that the album doesn't feature any lyrics to the songs which I would have loved to be able to read. There is some amount of liner notes but they seem to be written in runes and who knows if they even say anything in the first place. The album art was done by long time Opeth artist Travis Smith and the photos inside are not band candids but instead mood inducing and gloomy shots. Roadrunner Records has also issued a special edition of this album that features enhanced packaging, additional tracks and a DVD. On this I can say no more since I only had the standard version.

Opeth: Watershed
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2008-06-10 07:11:51
My Score:

The ninth album from Swedish progressive metal legends Opeth sees the band once again trying to re-invent themselves, taking all their past musical avenues and combining them into one hell of an album in Watershed. Following in the footsteps of the excellent Ghost Reveries, this latest from Opeth combines much of their darker, doomy death metal elements with the folk & progressive rock leanings of Damnation, for a winning formula that should satisfy both existing fans and those who have yet to jump over to the Opeth camp.

Starting off an Opeth record with the folky "Coil" is a bold move, but this gorgeous acoustic piece, with Mikael Akerfeldt singing a duet with female singer Nathalie Lorichs, proves to be a lulling calm before the storm. That storm comes in the form of "Heir Apparent", a crushing, bombastic death metal track that should please all fans of the band's earlier material. New drummer Martin 'Axe' Axenrot is all over this one with plenty of raging blast beats and tricky jazz passages, and despite all the raging testosterone going on during this one, the band, in trademark fashion, throws in some wonderful proggy interludes here and there to temper the extreme metal fury. Akerfeldt's death metal growls are killer here, and the guitar work from he and new guy (and former Arch Enemy member) Fredrik Akesson is just astounding. A stellar song and one of the best in the Opeth cannon.

The mixing of both clean & growling vocals is used to near perfection on "The Lotus Eater", a gem of a prog-metal piece, Axenrot's manic drums flurrying underneath beds of complex guitar riffery and Per Wiberg's doomy Mellotron & organ. The ballad "Burden" is a continuation of the material from Damnation, pure prog rock, with Wiberg's lush Mellotron providing the soundscape for Akerfeldt's poignant vocals. On "Porcelain Heart", which Akerfeldt co-wrote with Akesson, prog is mixed with haunting doom, as fury is combined with calming folk passages featuring plenty of acoustic guitar and various reeds. The lead vocals on this one are quite good, and almost comes across as overly innocent as if Akerfeldt was playing the role of a small child, and with all the intricate guitar and keyboard lines flying around it makes for a wild ride.

The band returns to folky prog on "Hessian Peel", a lengthy piece that sees the band take many twists and turns. Wiberg's Mellotron once again makes a healthy appearance alongside some strings, reeds, lush acoustic guitar, and Akerfeldt's poignant clean vocals. At around the mid-way point the gears shift and the progressive death metal side of Opeth returns, with thunderous rhythms crashing against venemous guitar riffs and deathly vocal growls. For the finale, the band once again folds together doom, death metal, and prog, on the song "Hex Omega", using all the elements they have so successfully woven throughout the album, for a truly powerful yet haunting piece.

If you have been an Opeth fan since their inception, Watershed really should come as no surprise to you, as they have seemingly been heading in this direction for quite some time. It combines all we have ever loved about this band, and shows great strides in Mikael Akerfeldt's writing. Without a doubt, this will be one of the best releases here in 2008.

And who said Roadrunner Records was going to temper this band?


» Reader Comments:

Opeth: Watershed
Posted by ??? on 2009-02-04 09:29:40
My Score:

The biggest tragedy of this disc was that preorder through The End records. They gobbled up peoples cash by overselling the availability for autographed editions without any notification to customers. The band and the label were aware, but did nothing. In essence, they charged people the maximum price for nothing. You think the pigs would have initiated tiered pricing? Not on your life!! They were giving the Mellotron Heart cds away at retail outlets while The End records sold them out the back-door later on for inflated prices. Smell something funny?

Opeth: Watershed
Posted by Scott on 2008-06-03 03:18:56
My Score:

Great cd the new guys do a fine job only problem I have as is I no sooner start listening and seems to be over quick. But that probably says more about how much I like it will be in my best of 2008 for sure. Have to mention the dvd you see so many dvd bonus discs with short studio footage good to see this one isn't . Provides a great insight into the new album and new members.




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