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Watershed plays a vitally important if underappreciated role in Opeth’s history. Coming straight from the masterpiece Ghost Reveries, it revealed itself to be a drastically different beast altogether. A plethora of sonic landscapes and musical styles are explored here, but accomplished in a very different way than usual. Genre-bending was always their go-to shtick for a sharp right turn in songwriting, but never before have they gone all out quite like they do on Watershed. For the first time, more meditative progressive rock songs exist in the album than metal epics. Most tracks contain extended, bizarre outros of down-tuning guitar playing or ghostly whispers. Watershed is possibly the group’s most haunting and schizophrenic release yet. Despite these dramatic flourishes, the imagery and lyrics of Watershed are among their most cryptic, thoughtful, and mature.
The first catalyst for what Watershed would become was the absence of long time members guitarist Peter Lindgren and drummer Martin Lopez. Both departed the group shortly after the release of Ghost Reveries. With half of the band gone, Mikael Åkerfeldt felt more pressure than ever to impress his new band mates and anxious fans alike. The arrival of his second daughter would further serve to inspire the lyrics and meaning of Watershed. With these life changing events, especially with his family, Åkerfeldt became disillusioned with the state of the world. They also made him reconsider his former girlfriend, who tragically ended her own life while the band was in the studio. Surging emotions and life-altering events and realizations are the centerpieces of Watershed, propelling Opeth to a newfound maturity and evolution rarely seen amid their naturalistic, gothic themes of the occult and medieval.
The “Heir Apparent” on the album’s cover remains the most significant mystery behind Watershed. While the lyrics cover a far-reaching spectrum of personal emotions and experiences, the solemn figure at his desk bathed in a haunting fluorescent green glow largely remains a mystery. While Åkerfeldt denied Watershed being a concept album, he admitted that it is about a character; specifically, a manifestation of himself after his epiphanies that came with fatherhood and seeing the world through a new vision. The lyrics mainly detail a tyrannical figure presiding over some kind of society, possibly our world. “… His touch soiling what used to be clean, his gaze burning on the edge of our dreams. Cold days, and again he rides… It's September and he covets the gullible, skeletal wish, hunter… Hear him spewing forth a meaning to miserable lies, see the twisted hand of doubt seal the affair… Pearls before swine, they are nothing but blind.” Åkerfeldt stated that these new personal evolutions have left him feeling anxious and paranoid about the state of the world around him, as the “Heir Apparent” is a representation of his fears encapsulated in a tyrannical figure ruling over our blinded society.
The tranquil “Coil” precedes the crushingly brutal “Heir Apparent” featuring Åkerfeldt and drummer Lindgren’s girlfriend Nathalie Lorichs hauntingly crooning of loss and regret. “When I get out of here, when I leave you behind, I'll find that the years passed us by. And I can see you, running through the fields of sorrow." These lamentations refer to the sorrow he feels regarding his former girlfriend and her child, further exhibited in “Hessian Peel” and “Hex Omega.” “Will their children cry, when their mother dies?… The light comes on, the signal for us to end our lives… I left you alone, we all left you alone… Lock the children away from harm, they'll lock all your reason why, seeking tenderness with a dagger, skin is blocked by the years of trial. You felt abandoned in the fog of flesh sitting in place from the dead, awaiting the face of the moon to ascend. You follow the siren in your head.” “… Held him in your arms, your fever subside. Always safe from harm, kept demons inside. Still you always start runnin.' Touch the light from the moon, some way mother cried, left us space here.” Åkerfeldt’s former girlfriend left behind a son, the same age as his oldest daughter. Heartbreaking prose and clever wordplay weave together themes of loss, regret, and death while staying true to Opeth’s gothic tone and imagery. “Hessian Peel” and “Hex Omega” ultimately come across as among the most heartfelt and tragic of their lyrics, ending Watershed, and the essential component of their legacy, on a truly solemn note.
Watershed is a major transition of Opeth, and a long expected farewell to progressive death metal and gothic atmospheres for Akerfeldt’s musical vision. The finalities uncovered in its layered textures are numerous and significant to the true understanding of what it represents in the identity and legacy of Opeth. While it is a “watershed” in their history, it certainly does not deserve the reputation it has unfairly acquired: that it stands with the more death metal influenced Deliverance as their least accomplished releases. Watershed remains a unique testament to their style and represents a beginning of new ideas for Opeth that would be further explored in the vastly differing Heritage and Pale Communion. The musical influences are more far reaching than ever before, with some of the most brutal death metal in tracks like “Heir Apparent,” to bouncy folk sections in “Hessian Peal” and “The Lotus Eater.”
Watershed ultimately closes an era for Opeth, an era of what some would say is their signature style. However, this album proves that the band is best at daring experimentation and jarring shifts in structure and songwriting. Watershed is ultimately a message from Opeth to the longtime fans: to trust them, that they know what you want, and dissonant, layered guitar riffs and guttural vocals aren’t always needed to make a fantastic Opeth record. Watershed exhibits this transition seamlessly. It is an album of finality for the group and a fond farewell to their assumed musical identity, their image, certain people in their lives, and a closed book for their unrivaled legacy.
As the old adage goes, there is never a second chance for one to make a first impression, whether it be for a job interview, an audition for a Broadway musical, or the first introduction to a popular band’s music. If the given party being evaluated does not present an effort indicative of their best, the unimpressed prospective client/listener will not likely be as compelled to give a follow-up look at subsequent attempts. Such was the case with my first exposure to Opeth several years ago now, being somewhat intrigued by the style itself, but ultimately disappointed by the overlong, repetition-heavy songwriting. Having tried my luck with several releases from the constantly praised middle-era only to come up wanting each time, I had eventually resigned myself to the opinion that the band was nothing more than a bunch of posers, unable to put out a fully solid album if their life depended on it. Even after an earnest recommendation from a good friend who had heard my plight, I almost didn’t even bother to give Watershed a fair shake, especially after having encountered several adamant fans claiming said album to be the absolute worst in the band’s catalogue. But, not one to judge a book by its cover or critics, I decided to give it a listen anyway, no expectations whatsoever present. Needless to say, by the time the album had finished I was left appropriately baffled, both in regards to the actual quality of the album, and the ever present question of where exactly Opeth fans get their notions of what constitutes good and bad music.
It’s not so much that Watershed is a complete revamp of the band’s sound, but that it draws its strengths from every corner of Opeth’s extensive catalogue and melds them together into a single package, while simultaneously incorporating new ideas, and spicing up the arrangements to include more versatility than ever before. The mellow, keyboard-laden elements that began seeping in on Damnation are once again very much prominent, this time expounded upon by the fantastic inclusion of actual strings and woodwinds (the section at around 1:37 in “Hessian Peel” in particular never ceases to send chills down my spine). That said, when this album decides to kick things into high gear, suddenly the band sounds to be channeling the vitality of My Arms, Your Hearse, or even the better songs off Blackwater Park. Such an uptick in sheer driving force can likely be attributed to the stellar performance of newcomer Martin Axenrot, whose far flashier and hard-hitting style of drumming lays waste to any opposition. On occasion, there can even be vaguely ascertained a semblance of the folk-inspired approach of this outfit’s earliest days making a return in some of the guitar lines. As the icing on the cake, repetition of ideas is typically kept to a reasonable minimum, the songs generally remaining well-organized, but taking an ample amount of liberties in constantly exploring new territory throughout.
Akerfeldt is certainly no stranger to attempting to merge his starkly different influences into a dynamic whole (it’s all but the band’s calling card), but never has he managed to pull it off as effectively as shown here. As was the case with Ghost Reveries, growls are outweighed by clean vocals by one of the largest margins ever in Opeth’s career (and would disappear completely for the foreseeable future following this outing), and yet the instrumentation very rarely prevents one from perceiving this as anything but a progressive metal album, through and through. “Heir Apparent”, the only song to utilize harsh vocals for its entirety, comes damn near close to giving “Demon of the Fall” a run for its money where sheer aggression is concerned. “The Lotus Eater” is better still, being a similarly vigorous exercise in pummeling riffs and powerful drumming (plus featuring the band’s very first usage of blast-beats), but occasionally lets up for some haunting atmosphere to sift in, and even takes a detour into a grooving 70’s keyboard/funk-guitar break later on. Of course, where dynamics and multi-faceted songwriting are concerned, “Hessian Peel” reigns triumphant, progressing from a light-spirited yet somewhat epic first half into a dark, schizophrenic fit of madness by the end.
In terms of the lighter material, of which there is relatively more than many previous efforts, the cuts delivered here are likewise of superb quality. Opener “Coil” stands beside “Benighted” as one of the best acoustic ditties in Opeth’s repertoire, its soothing atmosphere elevated to glorious proportions with the assistance of the aforementioned woodwinds and excellent female vocals. “Hex Omega” on the other hand is more akin to a track from Damnation, albeit one with equal parts trance-esque clean sections and powerful distorted riffs. But it’s “Burden” that by far steals the show, taking its rightful place on top of the mountain as the greatest ballad this band has ever recorded. Even on a purely instrumental basis the song more than qualifies for the position, a blistering Hammond organ solo and soulful dual guitar outro being the main attractions. Above all however, it’s the immaculate vocal melodies and expert delivery that truly sell the song. In fact, all throughout this record, Akerfeldt provides the ultimate display of his clean singing abilities with the most versatile and powerful performance of his career.
Of the seven tracks presented, “Porcelain Heart” stands as the one that rings the least memorable. While far from being outright lackluster (I’ll gladly take it over the likes of “Face of Melinda”, “Dirge for November”, or just about anything off of Deliverance), the song suffers primarily due to bits of the finished product not seeming to gel as well together, particularly the abrupt switch to the final “chorus”, so to speak. Though not deprived of several redeeming qualities throughout, the band’s testimony that the song was canned twice before being recorded for the hell of it as isn’t all that hard to believe. On the topic of songs not reaching their full potential however, despite the praises I’ve heaped upon this album thus far, the entire affair seems to revel in a similar feeling of getting on the right path, but never quite following it all the way to the end. The songs are all of quality in one way or another, many certainly ranking among the band’s best efforts, but at times feel as though they haven’t been fully realized. As such, the album as a whole comes off as more of a transitional release, Akerfeldt and crew having discovered their new niche, but only just scratching the surface of what can be accomplished with it.
It is practically unheard of for a band to release their defining work nearly 20 years into their career (in fact, I can’t think of a single instance off the top of my head), and though an unpopular opinion it may be, I will argue that is exactly what Opeth have done with Watershed. That it actually convinced me to listen through their entire back catalogue, and take the time to write a series of reviews for each record is a testament to that. Those with a preference towards this act’s death metal tendencies would do well to stick with My Arms, Your Hearse, but for those looking for an adequate balance of everything, this is the most well-rounded of all the band’s full-lengths, and the one I would immediately suggest for those just looking into their music. That it took a decade of average/mediocre output, and nearly half the band leaving to finally top their previous high-point is quite the bittersweet triumph, but a triumph nonetheless. Though they’ll likely never erase my impressions of them being one of the most overrated prog bands in existence, no matter how many quality albums they release from this point forward, I can’t deny the undeniable as other fans of this band appear to where this album is concerned. On this release, Opeth legitimately kicks ass.
Opeth sparked a fair amount of controversy last year with the release of their tenth album, Heritage. Ignoring the why's and how justified the controversy is, one of the things that sets Heritage apart from most of Opeth's other albums is the fact that nearly all metal elements were abandoned.
Well, considering Watershed was the album released prior to Heritage, that should've come to a surprise to no one. Indeed, Watershed is the first Opeth album I don't feel comfortable categorizing as death metal at all (besides Damnation, of course), and even the metal elements here are scattered abroad. Since Damnation came out, Mikael realized how much he really loves his prog rock odes, and the '70s prog worship became increasingly dominant. Ghost Reveries had far more soft, acoustic sections than any metal album Opeth released prior, and Watershed is a natural progress in that direction. So was Heritage from Watershed, to be honest.
Nonetheless, does that mean Watershed is bad? Not inherently, no. Mikael's songwriting is still top notch for much of the album. "Burden" is, perhaps, the best song Opeth has done and shows a side to Opeth that's rarely been explored: progressive catchiness. This might be another progressive rock ode, but "Burden" nails with the kind of hooks heard only on Damnation, and it succeeds tremendously. The atmosphere to the song is what makes it so successful; the music is deep and passionate, and caries a mysteriously somber quality to it in a fashion unique to Opeth.
"Coil" is further proof that Opeth can succeed with catchy music, and Mikael writes great hooks. What sets these songs apart from Opeth's other soft songs (songs like "Benighted" or "Hours of Wealth") is that these songs are soft, but they're not slow. They feature a more upbeat tempo with a faster rhythm, and they do not have a reliance on the mellotron or keyboards.
These two songs are a realization of one of Opeth's greatest traits, in my opinion: Mikael's vocals. Every time Mikael starts singing, it's like my body is taken over and I am possessed by some insatiable need to sing along with his perfectly crafted vocal melodies - these songs conjure that feeling as well as (if not better than) they've ever done. I must say, Mikael really knew how to craft perfect hooks. His singing clearly dominates both songs, rather than letting the moody music drive them. Simply put: it's a demonstration that he has one of the best clean voices in the business.
These two highlights are further enhanced in other ways, as well: aside from its awesome acoustic and bass rhythm, "Coil" also features prominent use of female vocals for, perhaps, the first time in Opeth's history, and it fits the mood of the song very well. "Burden," on the other hand, releases an electric lead between verses - between that and a well executed keyboard solo, the song is subject to repeated climax. A long, tremendous solo follows the last verse, sealing the passionate performance of the rest of the song.
One of my only real complaints with Opeth is their tendency to believe all clean vocal sections need comparatively soft instrumental performances, when such is not the case. Watershed shows in many sections that Opeth can play true progressive metal without the death elements, and this comes alive in "The Lotus Eater" and "Porcelain Heart." These two feature heavy, progressive rhythms and are not far away from past Opeth songs; however, the prior has constant singing with few slow segments, and the latter has no growling whatsoever.
The album's last two tracks are not overly heavy either. "Hessian Peel" and "Hex Omega" are both clear with their progressive rock moodiness. Though "Hex Omega" transitions to heavy passages periodically, and "Hessian Peel" bursts through in a fit of death metal fury about half way through, it is their mellow atmosphere which dominates them the most. With this realization, one will notice "Heir Apparent" is the only song on the album with dominant use of growling. In this, I can make my claim that Mikael clearly lost interest in playing death metal before recording this album. Now, notice this: "Coil" and "Burden" are both soft rock songs that would've fit on Damnation. "Hessian Peel" and "Hex Omega" are right up in the same progressive rock territory, even if they do feature prominent heavy sections. In this, it's clear to me Mikael was already getting bored with playing metal at all.
That said, unlike Heritage, which is mostly ruined by bad songwriting, Watershed's songwriting is actually good. Though the soft sections are galore, they're generally enjoyable. I've already made clear how much I adore "Coil" and "Burden," but the jazzy acoustic lead that opens up "Hessian Peel," the acoustic lead during the third verse of "Coil," and the keyboard melody that transitions off the guitar solo at 3:15 in "Hex Omega" are major specific highlights for me.
The album's major, glaring flaw is its inconsistency. Again, I really adore "Coil" and "Burden." Though I do enjoy all the other songs, none of them are up to the same quality. "Heir Apparent" is an unnecessary inclusion for the sake of adding brutality to an album that doesn't need it. Its riffs are subpar compared to other Opeth metal songs, though the last minute and a half is one of the best moments on the album. It's shameful the one vicious song on the album is equally weak, because Mikael's growl is on the same level of excellence as his clean voice.
"Hex Omega," on the other hand, is too long for what it does. The metal segments are fun enough (though rather overdone), but the acoustic segments are drawn out and become boring because of it. It took a long time before I began to like it or "Heir Apparent." Finally, "The Lotus Eater," "Porcelain Heart," and "Hessian Peel" all have at least a small dip in quality compared to the ridiculously high standards set by songs on past Opeth albums, as well.
Another complaint is that none of the songs traverse multiple moods and rhythms in one long song the same way Opeth is known for doing constantly in almost every other album of theirs. "The Lotus Eater" is the only track which really does this, and it doesn't quite reach the quality of songs like Blackwater Park's "The Leper Affinity" or Ghost Reveries's "Ghost of Perdition."
This is basically Opeth's transitional album. Like so many Opeth songs have transitions from savage death metal passages to calming acoustics, piano, or mellotron ambiance, so is Watershed a transition from the Opeth's death metal past to their progressive rock present. I believe this was also the beginning of many flaws that reared their ugly heads in Heritage; like a birth to a vicious Cerberus of soundscapes, Watershed began awkward transitions and boring interludes that would plague its follow-up. That said, Watershed is mostly a success in all these levels, and it is - despite its inconsistency - embraced and well welcomed into Opeth's history. If only every song succeeded in its elements the way "Burden" does.... it might've been Opeth's best.
Opeth is a group that suffers from one major problem. A majority of the time that they try to make slow songs, they result in boredom. I'm a huge fan when they can find a balance between both brutality and tranquility, but sadly, this album did not find a happy medium. It's obvious that the band has plenty of talent; it's just that it's often wasted on trying to be "artistic" with slower songs.
The album begins with "Coil". A slow and painful track, you're glad when it's over. Opeth can make good slow songs, the album Ghost Reveries made that very apparent to me, but this song is boredom incarnate. Fortunately, "Heir Apparent" comes thundering in to wake up the listener from the previous track. While the song has some slow moments, the track does a good job of finding clever ways to keep the listener's interest. For instance, once the song begins to slow down at around 3:30, it gives the listener a sense of calmness. Less than a minute later, Mikael's growls and a sonic wall of fast guitars and drums come out of nowhere. This process doesn't just happen once, but twice. This makes the song good for repeated listens because after listening through it once, you sit and wait in anticipation for Opeth's power to enter your ears.
Then along comes "The Lotus Eater". By now, the listener's interest has had a taste of what is to come on this album, and he/she waits to see what Opeth throw at them next. The song starts out slow and annoying due to Mikael humming for some reason, but the song picks up speed quickly. The best aspect of this song is the guitar work, and the song even makes room for a brief solo. The song does get rather tedious in the middle, but manages to bring the energy back for the end of the song. Despite the song having some good moments, it's nothing superb. By now, the listener is still interested enough to continue listening to the album and "Burden" enters. The one slow song on this album that isn't boring. Sure, it starts out slowly, but the slightly jazzy feel that this song has actually makes it worth listening to. Not only that, but about two minutes into the song is a fantastic keyboard solo. The only problem with this track is the last minute consists of the band attempting to show how an acoustic guitar can be played out of tune along with an "evil" laugh for no discernible reason. A majority of the song is well done, but the listener now has a perplexed look on their face due to the manner in which the song ended.
The welcome sound of well played electric guitars comes around due to "Porcelain Heart" which restores the listener's faith in the album....briefly. The song begins to slow down and all hope seems lost. Out of nowhere, the power that Opeth contains comes to save the listener. This process repeats again, but this track is a bit less fulfilling than "Heir Apparent" snce the amount of power in this song can't compete. Still, the song ends on a good note which is more than I can say for "Burden". The listener is still awake just in time for the longest track on the album to make its mark. "Hessian Peel", much like previous tracks, contains an imbalance of slow and fast tempos. By this time, the listener has fallen into a deep sleep and all hope appears to be gone. Opeth, true to form on this album, come to save the listener from the boredom they themselves made. Mikael growls, the guitarists and drummer do their work, and the song ends with keyboards fit for a carnival.
And now it's time for the grand finale. The listener now waits to hear what power is waiting to be heard on "Hex Omega". What does the listener find? They find a song that tries to trick them into thinking that Opeth will unleash more awesome growls and sonic destruction by beginning with some good electric guitar work. What happens next is the listener, exhausted from the previous boredom they suffered on this album, gives in and falls asleep. The difference is that the listener can't get awake again, even with the guitar towards the end of the song playing.
So, what does this album amount to in the end? Basically, a very boring hour of your time. The album has some good growls from Mikael, some enjoyable guitar and drum work, a keyboard solo that was awesome, and a slow song that wasn't half bad. Unfortunately, a majority of the music played here is slow, tedious, and sleep-inducing.
The band themselves is not bad in any way. It's just that this album saw a real decrease in the quality of the music being put out by the band. The bottom line is that this album was a disappointment compared to their last album. It still had some dignified moments which is more than I can say for Heritage and I do admit that if I were trying to get someone into Opeth's music, I would probably start with this album. Most people who are not metalheads might find some enjoyment in the slower moments and it would get them used to Mikael's growling. Still, as an Opeth fan, I don't find much enjoyment in listening to this album.
The tracks that I enjoyed on here the most were "Heir Apparent" and "Burden". The tracks that I liked enough to deserve mentioning are "The Lotus Eater" and "Porcelain Heart"
When Opeth in 2008 announced the upcoming release of their new album, Watershed, the emotions that it evoked were mixed, especially with two of my favourite members of the band, Martin Lopez leaving the band in 2005 and a year before the release of the album, Peter Lindgren left the band as well, being replaced by Bloodbath's Martin Axenrot and ex-Arch Enemy live guitarist Fredrik Åkesson respectively. Furthermore, 2005's Ghost Reveries marked the transition of the band's songwriting from a heavier edge to more progressive territories, leaving one to wonder what Watershed was going to sound like.
Album opener Coil brings listeners back to the band's Damnation album, with the acoustic guitars and Mikael Åkerfeldt's trademark clean vocals. The guest female vocals present on the song also helps in making this track an extremely soothing and beautiful one, and just from this intro track, one can almost be sure that there will be a markedly increased presence of such moments on the album. Imagine the surprise then, as Heir Apparent assaults the listener with a heavy, crushing riff, and one is brought back to the darker moments that were present on the band's previous effort, Ghost Reveries, and as sudden as these heavy riffs come in, they fade out and instead, the keys of Per Wiberg takes over, giving the music a chilling and haunting atmosphere before going back into their heavier mode. Mikhael's growls are stellar here, with a somewhat spacey sound to them, compared to the more aggressive and sharp style that he utilises on Bloodbath. Fans of Deliverance and Blackwater Park era Opeth, be prepared to be slightly disappointed as Heir Apparent could possibly be the heaviest song that is present on this ninth release of the band.
The reduction of heaviness on the album though, is fortunately made up for by the brilliant songwriting on Watershed, and this is evident throughout the album, with tracks that run for as long as 11 and a half minutes (Hessian Peel), yet containing not a single boring moment. The progression of the tracks are also typically Opeth, with the constant switching between heavy and soothing moments, though compared to prior releases, the death metal moments are notably fewer throughout the album. The Lotus Eater also progresses like a more updated and progressive version of The Baying of the Hounds, with the melodic and catchy yet heavy riffs on the guitar, and the usage of clean vocals on top of the heavy riffs. Burden would have easily fit on the Damnation album as well, with the song being filled with mostly instruments played in cleans, yet this manages to stand as one of my favourite tracks on the album with the calming yet somewhat desolate mood that it rouses in the listener.
Throughout the album, Fredrik also proves his abilities as a guitarist, and his ability to fit in the band, with the numerous face-ripping solos that he unleashes effortlessly, yet staying within the style that Opeth has crafted over the years through the capable playing of the acoustic guitars as well. Mikael's characteristic soaring guitar solos are also present alongside those of Fredrik, like on Burden. One of the main highlights on the album as well is the duel between Fredrik and Mikael on Burden, giving listeners a glimpse to the prowess of each of the musicians. The detuning of the guitar at the end of the track also provides a quirky moment, ending with a sinister laugh by Mikael. The Lotus Eater also shows Per Wiberg's ability on his instruments with the extremely complex solo slightly after the halfway mark. On top of that, Axenrot also shows that he is not only the blast-beats machine (like in Bloodbath), but is also capable of providing some jazzy moments like his predecessor, Martin Lopez, helping to address any displeasures from long time die-hard fans of the band. Martin Mendex also uses his bass like a third lead instrument, providing a constant soothing background melody underneath all the other instruments.
Watershed also stands as one of the shortest albums of the band's career, with all tracks having a combined runtime of under 1 hour, and this, combined with the large change of musical style could make this album the band's first divisive albums before their final transition into a full-on prog band with 2011's Heritage. While fans of what was on Deliverance and Blackwater Part could probably hate this, Watershed has over time become one of my favourite albums of Opeth, with the perfect balance between and fusion of heaviness and melody.
With 2006's 'Ghost Reveries,' Opeth burst out onto the world stage and became a household name in the world of metal. Now, with new members and a fresh new perspective, Opeth has released yet another fantastic album. Falling just short of perfection, 'Watershed' offers a dose of some great Opeth material, paired with some rather half-baked material. There are some instant classics on this album, such as the innovative track 'The Lotus Eater,' which stands as being both the highlight of this album and one of the best, strangest songs Opeth has ever recorded.
The new band members, while they will obviously meet criticism from hardcore purists regardless, are in fact incredibly talented. The new drummer, Martin Axenrot is a fair improvement from his predecessor, and although the jazz percussive influences can't be heard as much anymore, there's an added dose of metal to be heard here, which compensates for the added focus on prog-rock. This album can be thought of as one part 'Ghost Reveries' and one part 'Damnation.' While Opeth is typically thought of as a death metal band, only three of the songs to be found here have death growling! This is a sign of the future for Opeth... Potentially they will come to the point where they scrap death metal altogether? Hopefully not, because the growls on this album are some of his best yet. 'Heir Apparent' offers some of the most bone- crushing death metal Opeth has ever done, and stands as being one of their heaviest songs yet.
The beautiful ballad 'Burden,' while being something of evidence of Roadrunner's commercial pressures on the band, still works out to be a really nice prog-rock song, reminiscent of classic 70's prog. The only song on this album that dissapoints is the closer 'Hex Omega,' which although having some good riffs, doesn't really pass as being a very fitting closer. In fact, if 'Hex Omega' had been replaced with a better finishing song, this album would have received five stars. But as a final impression, it injures the album's overall effect. Despite this shortcoming, the album pulls through however, and stands as being a great Opeth release, and does not dissapoint. Definately worth the purchase.
Let me start by saying I don't exactly hate Opeth. Mikael is a phenomenal vocalist and at times I wish more bands had vocals like his. The guitar work (when it's actually present) is laudable and I enjoy a lot of the leads/riffs. In fact, their song "Deliverance" is easily in the Top 50 of my favorite songs. So by no means do I think Opeth sucks. That being said, like all previous albums, they seem to write some excellent songs then a lot of shitty ones. The only difference with Watershed is that the good ones come first and the shitty ones come last (thus giving me a perfect title for this review). The final track is a mix of good and bad so I gave the original 37.5% rating this would get a boost to 44% (8/3 = 12.5 x 3 + 6.25) so that's where the rating comes from. 3 songs that essentially equal 100%, one that essentially equals 50% and the others that get a well-deserved, snorefest ZERO.
So now that I've established the rating and the fact that I don't necessarily hate Opeth, I can continue my review. My original expectations weren't very high as I am not by any means of the word a die-hard. I cherry-pick every album they release and add only the good ones to my permanent library, knowing that the slower songs have zero chance of ever appealing to me. So going into this I was like, "Well, time to listen to it once and delete the boring songs," as I always do with all Opeth records. "Coil" is the first track and it really is a nice intro to the album. Very soothing with some great, calm female vocals and your delicious dose of Mikael's harmonious, heavenly singing to amplify the greatness. "Awesome," I say to myself, "that's a keeper." Then comes "Heir Apparent" which features a pretty repetitive droney, slam riff. No, not like slamcore bullshit. It has a crunch then it drones on for a few seconds before it repeats. The riff itself develops, only further made even more badass by the fact that there's a very sinister, killer lead. A dark song consisting overall of mostly, if not all, growls. Additionally, there are some acoustic sections which are pretty pleasant and add a nice contrast to the darkness. So we're 2 for 2 now. Up next is "The Lotus Eater" which features some singing over very unorthodox-for-Opeth blast beats (sounds great, too) and something that Between the Buried and Me would do: a jazz passage. It's more fluid than BTBAM's genre-swinging sections so it doesn't sound as out of place (not that it'd be a bad thing regardless of how smooth the transition is). Also features some nice lead work, but overall it's pretty standard for the more death metally songs Opeth writes other than what I just pointed out.
Holy shit, 3 songs in a row that don't suck? A miracle, I say. But then comes "Burden" which is just absolutely dreadful. The song epitomizes an auditory burden. Slow, dreary and just a serious aura of apathy. After my initial listen, I could not have become more bored. The rest of the tracks fall into the same category as this bullshit, only finally becoming a little more interesting with "Hex Omega" but that turns into a pile of shit by the end as well. I might as well just chop off the last few minutes in Audacity.
See, I respect Opeth and all, but most of the time they really cannot keep my attention because they write too many lethargic songs with small death metal passages. I'm all for the songs being long too, but when you have multiple songs consisting of just tepid, boring slow shit you kind of begin to question whether they're death metal at all. I understand the mood is supposed to be depressing, and its done quite well, but you can be depressing without being boring. They have such a hard time keeping my attention with such lifelessness. All of Opeth's slow songs are a trudge through mud; a complete snorefest of forgettable, generic sounds. Mikael begins to sound like he's tired and everyone else starts to get drowsy. I can't even single out a slow Opeth song that sounds any different from the others. It's all just a rehash of a rehash. They always tend to be the longer tracks of the album(s) as well which is such a pain. It's like they just stopped caring halfway through the recording process and decided to write the latter half in their sleep. They expend all their energy on the pummeling death metal tracks and take breathers on the slow songs. In fact, I don't mind slow songs at all! They just need to be interesting enough.
We all know these guys are talented musicians from a mechanical standpoint. Mikael is easily one of the best multi-range vocalists out there, the guitarists can play some very haunting, depressing and memorable leads and the drummer possesses such a big portfolio of different playing styles. It truly is apparent they know how to write good music and play their instruments well, but they just don't seem to try on every song. You can feel their energy and passion in the first three songs, but after that it just all fades into a void. Calamity is far from what I expect of these guys. All I ask is that the songs keep my fucking attention, but after this long and zero improvement, I don't think they'll ever meet my demands.
Yes, the album captures the dark atmosphere they try to go for with its crystal clear production, enveloping bass guitar and brilliant piano playing, but in the end the latter half of the album just fucking SUCKS. No amount of great atmosphere will ever capture my attention if everything else blows. Especially when on the first listen I began to fucking zone out. Yes, zone out. If the objective of Opeth's entire discography is to cock tease the fuck out of you with a couple good songs then have an outweighing plethora of snorefests...well, congratulations. You have succeeded.
I will continue to check out Opeth's future work, but this many albums later, I think it's safe to say that any future album's merit will be directly related to how much they give a fuck about keeping my attention.
In the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter how good or bad this or any future releases under the inspirational name of 'Opeth' turn out to be as the band's legacy has by now long been secured. That legacy being the creation of some of the most exceptionally beautiful, well-constructed and undeniably unique music the world has ever known, resulting in the collective looking down upon virtually everyone else in the Metal spectrum, for starters. They could also conceivably release a turd cunningly disguised as a CD these days and past successes would guarantee a good many sales - just look at "St. Anger". To guarantee your continued reading however, I can assure you this is not the case with the Swede's 9th masterpiece "Watershed".
When thumbing through Opeth's now extensive discography it appears they really haven't changed all that much stylistically over the years, but more just refined and adjusted their sound a little for each album (save for the brilliant acoustic album "Damnation"). But then why should they when there isn't another band that sounds even remotely like them? The free-spirited song structures mainman Michael Akerfeldt employs are arguably more dynamic than ever before, each changing mood and direction more times than a hyper expectant mother, with longest track "Hessian Peel" displaying this most prominently. Opeth have also taken the outrageously brave step for even a band like themselves to open the album with an entirely soft, acoustic song. Were it not for the astounding beauty of "Coil", where the vocal interplay between Akerfeldt and the angelic Nathalie Lorichs is sublime, it probably wouldn't work but Opeth pull it off with aplomb, resulting in arguably their finest 'soft' song ahead of even my previous personal fave "Credence" ("My Arms, Your Hearse"). However when the Metal arrives in follower "Heir Apparent" I am left feeling a litle cold and unmoved by the manner in which soft and heavy is combined. In what turns out to be my biggest negative against "Watershed", much of the bridging between neighbouring sections in "Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" comes across rather disjointed and forced, a similar problem to the one that ever prevented me from really getting into "Ghost Reveries". The doomy heavy sections are up there with being as heavy as the band have been but these two songs appear to lack the spinkling of magic found on what is to come.
Thankfully my feelings change from the moment "Burden" kicks in, and every moment after is a joy. The dark atmosphere that has permeated all Opeth of old is in full flow resulting in times of epic serene tranquillity. On top of the expected prog masterclass the listener is also treated to moments of blues inspiration - just listen to the opening of "Hessian Peel" and not think of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The four closing songs beginning with "Burden" are largely of a soft nature, giving "Watershed" a stronger connection to the aforementioned "Damnation" than any other, and making this writer yearn for another all-acoustic album. I can only hope. "Hessian Peel' gracefully flows through numerous stages, resplendent with atmospheric keyboards provided by Per Wilberg and some lovely touches by drummer Martin Axenrot, giving a real lesson in song-writing to anyone who cares. Closer "Hex Omega' seems to last a lot longer than its 7 mintes given the magnitude of its contents, including haunting lead riffs and more gorgeous moments of contemplative relaxation from Akerfeldt & co. By the time I've reached the end of the album I really have forgotten about my disappointments of earlier moments in the album.
Unfortunately my duties as a Rockfreaks writer dictate I award "Watershed" a mark but this is difficult as Opeth are so head and shoulders above almost every other band going in 2008 that they deserve to be ranked against a far more superior scale, or perhaps get to venture in to the Spinal Tap-ian land of 11. Any fan of Metal, prog or Opeth will of course enjoy this album from a band that never seem to run dry of creative juices. If it weren't for the disjointed earlier songs we might've been looking at a near perfect mark...
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
For quite a while now, there haven't been many bands as surrounded by controversy and heated arguments as Opeth. Headlines read: Brilliant innovators or monotonous bores? Which album was their finest hour? Where did they jump the shark? Which lineup kicked your ass the hardest? The debate rages on, and that isn't about to change for Watershed.
There was already a buzz when the album was underway, mostly thanks to the departure of two longtime members who had formed a pretty integral part of the band during its most distinctive period (Still Life to Ghost Reveries, that is). Peter Lindgren parted ways, apparently after a long period of dissatisfaction with his creative contribution to the band and Martin Lopez opted out due to health reasons. When you take a band this big and replace nearly half the lineup, you're obviously creating more than a few ripples. They had already rocked the boat with Ghost Reveries, churning out a more concise, catchy style than before, so the clueless crowd had no idea what to expect this time around.
That feeling of uncertainty is maintained with the album opener Coil, an uncharacteristically serene start to an Opeth album, featuring plenty of lush arpeggiated acoustic guitar patterns and a folksy vocal duet between Mikael Akerfeldt and Nathalie Lorichs. You could be forgiven for wondering whether they were making a follow up to Damnation but then you notice the bubbling malevolence in the background as the song trails off and suddenly, Heir Apparent bludgeons its way into your head like a ton of bricks. Monstrous doomy riffs walk the earth and then explode into action, slashing and pummelling with some of that familiar 'love it or hate it' stop-start attack and a couple of characteristic short acoustic breaks. Mike's distinctive roar penetrates the mix effortlessly, and your fears are allayed – they haven't lost it at all.
In fact, Martin Axenrot's full-throttle mauling of the skins is a noticeable contrast from Lopez's almost jazzy style, but they suit the newfound aggression that the band has embraced. And make no mistake, the guy is a versatile beast. As for the other new guy, Fredrik Akesson – he's no slouch either, brandishing a cool solo style where he slickly switches between muted picking and fluid legato runs. Makes a great complement for Mike's smooth jazz leads.
The Lotus Eaters kicks up the versatility a notch, blast beating over clean harmonised vocals (sounds like something only bands like Carnival in CoalOpeth swagger, hopping back and forth between dissonance and melody, and throwing a curve ball with some crazy organ groove-jamming that kicks you back over 3 decades or so. In case you were wondering whether the oldschool prog rock angle was a one-off thing, the melancholy Burden comes on and puts all doubts to rest, playing like one of the tail-enders from the King Crimson debut. In fact, when he starts crooning the “Aaahhh..” refrain near the 4 minute break, you could practically fool yourself into thinking you were listening to In the Court of the Crimson King. As the soulful guitar leads trade off with some cool keyboard noodling and mellotron backing, it's hard not to think that all is well, even as things spiral down to detuned cacophony at the end. could pull off, but it works), flaunting some of that typical
We're then handed some juxtaposition treatment with Porcelain Heart, alternating between heavy doom and eerie acoustic parts. There's even the X-files theme thrown into the mix around the middle. It's Spooky Mulder! Or just plain spooky, maybe. That sets up the scene for Hessian Peel, which clocks in at 11 and a half minutes, effectively claiming the title as leviathan of the album. This song is a perfect condensation of the album's essence, starting off with gentle acoustic tinkering which eventually tapers off into a series of prog passages that start picking up in intensity and then mushroom cloud into full fledged extreme metal around the halfway mark before kicking in some more proggy groove to mix it up. They manage to capture and meld the gloomy essence of doom with the whimsical nature of prog pretty admirably in a nutshell. That leaves Hex Omega on curtain call duty, and it takes its sweet time closing. Not that it's much of a complaint – after experiencing the ever-mutating Hessian Peel, it's almost comforting to hear this one uncoil at its own pace.
No two ways about it, this is a significantly different Opeth, and not in a bad way. For starters, out of the 7 songs here, Mike uses growled vocals only on 3, and out of these, Heir Apparent is the only one where they dominate the playtime. He seems to have recognised that not all heavy parts need harsh vocals to complement them and is obviously experimenting with different arrangements. Regardless of what critics say, Opeth don't appear to have been victims of trendhopping – the shock acoustic treatment with Damnation and now the embracing of 70s prog stand as evidence to this. Being the creative force behind the band, Mike obviously has some ideas about where he wants to take the band from here and so it's quite possible that the album title isn't an empty promise, after all. There will still be naysayers, but this effort hits all the right points for those who've got love for doom and prog alike.
Fame can be both boon and bane. And in the recent past, it has served as the latter to a good majority of metal bands that all of a sudden want to cash in on their success. And for a band like Opeth, success could have easily gotten to their heads. So did they fall prey to it?
Most definitely not. Despite all the murmurs about the line-up changes and how it could be the path to perdition for the band, Opeth have snubbed all nay-sayers with possibly their darkest and most epic album till date, Watershed. Watershed sees the debut of Fredrik Akesson (guitars) replacing Peter Lingdren, and Mikael Akerfeldt’s Bloodbath partner Martin Axenrot replacing Martin Lopez on drums. The album opens with the quintessential ballad ‘Coil’ that soon gives way to the blazing ‘Heir Apparent’. The glaring aspect of this song is the way Opeth have used modern style pinches and fast riffing and fused that into their already trademark blues and jazz inspired songwriting. And the sheer speed of the song at times takes you by the neck. Add to that the dark, almost black metal-like aura and you pretty much realize how versatile Mikael Akerfeldt is with songwriting. The song that takes the award though, is ‘The Lotus Eater’. Starting with a VERY deceptive happy tune hummed by Akerfeldt the song suddenly becomes this blazing inferno of blast beats. YES, blast beats! Blast beats with Akerfeldt singing clean. The next track ‘Burden’ is another ballad which ends with an acoustic riff being played while the guitar is continually tuning down. That is precisely what is so special about this album, the innovation. It seems Mikael Akerfeldt has drawn inspiration from all those various genres he likes, including a greater inspiration from death metal.
When listening to this album, I would recommend not expecting ANYTHING at all. This album is NOTHING like the Opeth one heard on ‘Damnation’ or ‘My Arms,Your Hearse’. Even the song lengths don’t make you go ‘Oh could you get it over with already’. This album is full of surprises in terms of scale and time signature changes, and is also much catchier than previous albums. And the number of vocal hooks on this album is phenomenal. Akerfeldt has even managed death growl hooks, and not just cookie monster drones. Drummer Martin Axenrot also brings some death metal influences to this album, like the aforementioned blast beats and an increased number of cymbal crashes (especially the China). The fretwork on this one also has a heightened death/thrash metal influence what with the pinches and the furious tremolo picking. Of course, the jazz and blues aspect stays and while the album has an evident extreme twist to it, bass player Martin Mendez provides the ‘yang’ to the ‘furious ying’ with a innovative jazz-inspired style of playing.
My advice to those who were worried about the line-up changes: the line-up has changed so that the music gets BETTER. And to those who were Opeth fans from the start, there is no reason to stop worshipping the band. To everyone else, you WANT this album.
We have now the latest Opeth release, Watershed with new guys on the line-up. Replacing Lopez is the Bloodbath-fame drummer Axenrot and taking the 2nd guitar duties is Fredrik Akesson, ex-Arch Enemy.
I didn't know what to expect about this album but I knew this would be very different from any Opeth release to date and yes, it's different. The mood, the songwriting, the execution of (almost all) instruments is different. There are some highlights and some low points that I'll try to explain here.
The album starts with Coil, a short song that serves (to me) as a intro more like a real song. Mellow and with good voices (Mike's ones and the female ones who fit very well with the song) and good use of keys. Also Mendez does some interesting stuff on bass. Very promising, doesn't?
Then comes Heir Apparent. I just will say the drumming is one of the lowest point on this album, being far from the great taste that Lopez had. Maybe the greatest Axe's mistake is the lack of cymbals using, combined with the non-jazzy style who fitted greatly before. On the heavy sections (30% of the time), Axe rocks but on the mellow ones (70% resting) he doesn't have the taste to do it well. Also a strange solo from fredrik comes and mor me, that kind of solos doesn't fit well with the music, Mike's solos are so much better and I'm relieved he does the major part of them.
The next song is The Lotus Eater and starts with mellow words by Mike and then the blastbeats comes. I liked the use of blastbeats under clean vocals (used by bands like Borknagar before) and the good growling from Mike , but the song have a pointless keyboard interlude again, like on Hair Apparent. the next riffs sounds cool until 5:45 where the SuperMario NES tune used by Per comes and ruins the song. Sometimes Per does a great job and another he ruins all, like here.
The next is Burden. This song is maybe the 'poppest' ballad made my Opeth ever. Per does a pointless solo on the middle, the aahhhs sounds weird (even a little gay - nothing personal with gay people, just it doesn't fit Opeth )and a classic guitar close the song but the last minute...I just can't dig it. It's the worst guitar performance I've heard from Opeth. A total disonant and pointless disaster with a 'Evil' laugh... damn.
Then comes Porcelain Heart, chosen for an official video. A safe song. Nothing spectacular, nothing wrong, just fine and maybe the more 'traditional' song of the album (the acoustic part sounds a lot like Vintersorg's Svältvinter intro). Until now the bass can be heard clearly only on Coil and burden, the rest of time is drown under the guitars doing almost root notes extrictly. Usually the favourite song of my skip-button.
The next song is Hessian Peel that starts mellow again and Mike does some inverted words. This is the longest song of the album, the only one who surpass 10 minutes. The first 5 and half minutes is a safe and fine song, then comes a heavier part with a strange solo -I guess provided by fredrik as the first solo on Heir Apparent - and the next minutes the mellow and heavy parts switches as Opeth always had done before but repeating the same heavy parts, not so much memorable, but still fairly decent.
The album - with just 7 songs on it - ends with Hex Omega, an unmemorable song I think. Not a bad song, just there's nothing special on it and it's skipped all the time.
On the paper, this album it's not bad but nothing outstanding right? then why I scored it with just 30? my reasons are:
a)Too short and no one really outstanding song.
b)Opeth this time don't sound cohesive.
c)Too many failed experimentation, specially on keyboards.
This is by far the weakest Opeth offering to date, even Ghost Reveries is better than this on all aspects. If you are a Opeth fan, maybe you'll like it anyway (will take a while to enjoy it I think) but if you don't, this is not a recommendable album for starting to hear them. Pick My Arms, Your Hearse or Still Life to know how great this guys once were.
Let me get this out of the way, I'm a huge Opeth fan. It can be safely said that I have a raging boner for their music. This album on the other hand, made me quite flaccid. Perhaps it was the loss of two obviously vital members, perhaps Roadrunner pushed them for a release date before they were ready, or perhaps they've just lost their appeal that they used to have. I seriously hope it's not the latter. They've been changing their sound since they first formed, from the melancholic ethereal (not a pun) works of the beginning days, to the passionate melodies of the Still Life to Blackwater Park days, or to the prog giant that was Ghost Reveries.
The change started with Ghost Reveries, which in my opinion was much more commercially savvy than previous efforts, although I still loved the album, because it was complex, deep, and actually had good writing. The addition of two new members, from the melodic death metal scene I might add, and the loss of two greatly individual members probably did Watershed in. A lot of the ideas on this album are fantastic, but the songwriting is absolutely horrendous. The album opens up with a decent acoustic/folk track with female vocals. Then a monster of a song, Heir Apparent, crushes it's way in. My hopes were up at this point. I enjoyed this song, but something was odd, it didn't feel right at all, then it hit me. There were no transitions, the "shred" solo was painfully generic, and that god awful fast paced generic pseudo thrash riff comes piling in and ruins it for me. The ending, although abrupt, is fantastic, I truly wish they would have expanded on it.
The Lotus Eater is what epitomized everything wrong on this album, they tried way too hard to sound different on this and it just sounds like a mess of incoherent and silly. It's really a very shitty song. Next comes Burden, which is so cheesy it makes my cock recede into my larynx. Akerfeldt, since Ghost Reveries, has continually wrote increasingly lame vocal melodies, this song is full of it. The rest of the album is actually pretty decent, albeit more closely related to prog rock than anything else. It has a very cool atmosphere, but it certainly does not make up for the train wreck that was the first half of this album.
The playing itself, is solid, and proficient. Keep in mind, proficient doesn't always mean good. Frederik and Axenrot are good players, but they're so generic and "metuhl." They don't feel like they have any soul at all. They'd be better off in, well, back where they came from, in the diluted and uninspired melodic death metal scene. Martin Mendez is wonderful as always, subtle, but there and very good. Mikael Akerfeldts growls are possibly the best ever, but his clean vocals are too poppy for my liking. His playing is always good, and very individual, it's easy to pick out who's playing what on this album seeing as Mikael is a very defined player and my disdain for Frederik's playing has already been stated. Per's keyboards are in fact better on this album than on the previous works, they feel more natural.
Hopefully in the next release they'll hone their new sound into something more worthwhile and ease into their new lineup. This album isn't completely worthless, but definitely not up to par at all.
This album could have been a turning point for Opeth. It could have been their chance to go away from their old standard sound that got more and more boring over the years. And it was hyped like this months before it was released. But now, as I listen to it, I am quite disappointed, because this is not a completely different and better Opeth. It's not like they didn't try. There are many good new ideas, for example the blastbeats and the funky keyboard part in "The Lotus Eater", the female vocals in "Coil" and the symphonic moments spread all across the album. The riffs are far better than on their previous effort "Ghost Reveries" and the proggy parts are the best of their entire career. So why does this album fail?
Because Mikael Åkerfeldt is simply the worst songwriter I know. It's all there and the different parts of the songs are good by themselves, but it's all arranged so randomly that it's almost painful to listen to. And it's not only the randomness. The transistions between the parts are horrible. Mostly they just jumps back and forth between heavy and proggy. Sometimes this works well (as in "Hessian Peel") but most of the time it doesn't. The worst case is the nice drum solo at 2:15 in "Porcelain Heart". You hear it and you think "Hey it's going to get more heavy!", but then suddenly it stops and all you hear is an acoustic guitar.
What is most annoying is that they seem to KNOW that they can't write a proper song that combines both the heavy and the mellow side of their music well. From the Watershed booklet:
Opeth: 1. A cluster of musicians expressing emotions by piecing random notes
and/or chords together
2. City of the moon
Well, I think they all have terrible mood swings if they want to express emotions with this. The best thing they could do is to either drop their heavy or their proggy side and become either a straight forward death metal or prog rock band. But this will never happen as Mr. Åkerfeldt is too afraid of selling out. Since they are signed to Roadrunner he constantly excuses himself with phrases like "There are still the long songs so we haven't sold out." or "Look at this riff, that's not mainstream." Maybe someone should tell him that changing a band's musical style to make it better and not for commercial reasons is not selling out.
Opeth and I have a love-hate relationship. Specifically, I love to hate them. No other bands in metal, other than Nile (pre-Ithyphallic) and Hate Eternal have managed to be so consistently boring with their output and yet garner such a significant fanbase (who, by themselves are almost as annoying as the band's sonic bete-noire). Oh yeah, I feel your incredulity. It nourishes me. Num num.
Alright then, let's cut the pleasantries and cut to the chase. Will Watershed, Opeth's 9th full length offering, change any of this? Will it be for Opeth what Ithyphallic was for Nile? Do Opeth proffer to the cynical listener something other than the dreary offal that punctuated their previous undertakings?Let it not be said that I did not make an effort here. I've played this album about 10 times over in just the last 4 days. Not just as background music to other, more undoubtedly interesting activities but objectively, in a genuine effort to form an honest opinion. And here it is.
The answer, I'm afraid is quite a resounding NO.
Watershed is an album that could've gone amazingly right for Opeth. The '70s prog references, the right extreme metal influences, clean vocals that could fit in with the best of trad metal and prog rock and superb production, the album has all of these. Coil, the album opener is a beautiful little acoustic number, showcasing Mikhael Akerfeldt's voice superbly. Fun fact : After reuniting with Bloodbath to make the new-asshole-tearer Unblessing the Purity, Akerfeldt felt so emasculated when he was writing Opeth material that he cut off his own balls, which consequently account for the female vocals on Coil. (That explains the album name, too. Watershed is not some esoteric innuendo as Opeth fanboys will most probably be masturbating over, it's just a euphimism for the tears that Akerfeldt cried when he realized that no matter what he did with Opeth, it just wasn't going to be as awesome as Resurrection Through Carnage.) Nah, I'm just yanking you, you poor sods. It was apparenty sung by some female named Nathalie Lorichs. She does a fine job, too. So far, so good. Heir Apparent follows, with an opening riff that's almost reminescent of Candlemass. It's at this point, when the marvellous opening riff ends, that Opeth's problems resurface. The problem with bands like Opeth and Cephalic Carnage is that they think by cramming in a thousand riffs per song, they can baffle the listener into believing they are good. No Opeth, I see right through your gimmicks. Sham(e) on you. From there on, it's a downward spiral into mediocrity (If you catch that reference, I will award you with a cookie) for Watershed. The rest of Heir Apparent noodles aimlessly through, like a zombie that wants to say "BRAAAAAAAAAAAINNNNNSSS" but by some quirk of fate, is vegetarian, resulting in some hilarious existential quandary by the next song (yeah, listen to 5:49 through 6:22 of The Lotus Eater and tell me you don't have visions of getting your ass fireballed by the end boss on Super Maro Bros.).The Lotus Eater's opening fast segment sounds like something straight out of Ihsahn's Adversary, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but the followthrough is amazingly weak, culminating in the video-game abomination referred to above.
Burden, again is a song that displays much potential. There'a lot of '70s prog worship here. It recalls Camel, Genesis, even bits of Deep Purple and ofcourse, tons of King Crimson, complete with that Hammond punctuation which I enjoyed the hell out of. Akerfeldt delivers a solid vocal performance on this and the solos are muchos tasty. The reason this song works is because it does not try to flog the shit out of the formula which makes Opeth's music so banal - the awkward amalgam of the progressive and the death metal. Indeed, Opeth could've been kickass as either a prog band or an extreme metal one. It's the uneasy flirtation between the two elements that bestows upon Opeth the title of "Blowpeth' (yeah,I might be the only one who calls them that but how does that make a difference?). Porcelain Heart and Hex Omega amble through very unmemorably, abusing every ineffective ploy that Opeth have used in their earlier albums.The sudden breaks, exaggerated silent passages, the faux-extreme metal passages, it's all there and it all sucks. However, beyond the Porcelain Heart lies partial salvation. The song of the album - Hessian Peel. From the bluesy acoustic opening to the positively BRILLIANT King Crimson worship, leading up to the Emperor-esque heavy part and the mouth-watering solo, everything about this song kicks ass. The fact that I could listen to 11 and a half plus minutes of this without feeling even slightly bored is testimony to the magnificence of this song.
Watershed has a lot of individual moments that are quite superb, but in stringing together these parts or following them through strongly is where it fails miserably. I give this 2 and a half disgruntled thadiyans, just for the mind-proggling (hee!!) Hessian Peel and the classy Burden.
Opeth's Watershed is like a surprise knock-out blow straight to the face. If there's anything that can be said about this Swedish group is that they're a band of evolution, progression, extremity and change, something that's very noticeable throughout the band's chronological discography. However, this latest release, very aptly named Watershed, takes Opeth's music to new extremes. It's a true strength of a musician when, even nine releases down the road, he still manages to make an impact, and make an impact Mikael Akerfeldt surely does â€“ Watershed will stretch your imagination, feelings and fears, and will leave you jittery and confused, reaching for the play button just to listen to it all over again.
In every way possible, Watershed is different. No other Opeth release is similar to this record. Watershed is like a Star Wars movie set in Jerusalem â€“ it's juts an unexpected, completely surprising record. Gone is the "formula" (calling Opeth's music formulaic is a disgrace) of growls, clean vocals, acoustic bit, more growls and the likes â€“ in Watershed, each song is an experience in and of itself, with none of the songs sharing any structural resemblance. When Akerfeldt utilizes his clean voice â€“ he does so for a reason, and the same applies for when he uses his guttural, brutal growl.
Speaking of growls, Watershed is Opeth's heavy record to contain the smallest amount of growls. Most of the album is sung by Akerfeldt using his clean, soothing, relaxing voice, and his clean vocals are the best they've ever been. This is, ladies and gentleman, an amazing singer. Technically proficient and about tenfold as emotive as Vincent Cavanagh, Akerfeldt puts forth here some of his best vocal lines, both in terms of execution and melody. The first half of Hessian Peel (certainly one of Opeth's best songs to date) is completely stunning, as well as the entirety of Burden, Opeth's surprising entry into the power ballad section of hard rock and heavy metal. Heavily inspired by the Scorpions' Still Loving you, this ultra-melodic ballad is a true guilty pleasure of mine. Per Wiberg plays an amazing 70's Hammond solo here and new kid Akesson and Akerfeldt switch rules playing beautiful guitar solos.
There are many first-time elements on Watershed. On the opening track, the short, sweet, naive Coil, drummer Martin Axernot's girlfriend folk singer Nathalie Lorichs performs some female vocals that are surprisingly effective in an Opeth song. Not only does another example, The Lotus Eater, contain Opeth's first-ever blast beats, it layers clean vocals over them, evoking an Anaal Nathrakh vibe that's totally fucked up. This same song contains what Opeth band members call "grind", a keyboard segment that wouldn't feel out of place in a Super Mario game. Sound weird? You bet your sorry ass it is!
However, the most striking difference in terms of sound is the use of strings, oboes, a church organ and flutes. Wiberg's mellotron is only used when needed, and the symphonic parts of Ghost Reveries are now replaced by real instruments. They appear throughout the entire album at key moments, with the most noticeable joining Mike's amazing voice in the aforementioned Hessian Peel.
Time to talk about metal. As much as I adore Akerfeldt's melodic performance throughout the album, there's something to be said about this album â€“ it's unbelievably extreme. When the album isn't very metal, it's really, really not metal. Jazzy, bluesy influences, even some folk and Scott Walker influences have brought Akerfeldt to write some of his most amazing, darkest melodies to date, and these, as mellow as they are, are contrasted greatly by the sheer heaviness of the more metal-oriented parts. Porcelain Heart, for example, doesn't feature any growls, yet its main riff is very dark, doomy and even a bit Sabbath-like. It also bears a certain similarity to Opeth's own The Grand Conjuration in one of the song's riffs. When Akerfeldt does use his growlsâ€¦ Well, these are some of Opeth's most metal moments to date. The Lotus Eater keeps throwing the ball between clean vocals and guttural ones, and the MAYH-ish riffs in the background are excellent. The second half of the discussed Hessian Peel contains some of Opeth's heaviest riff, most notably a nearly-entirely-palm-muted bit that sounds a bit classical in a way.
As if to completely negate the more relaxed nature of the album, right after the "wimpy" Coil is finished the band goes into Heir Apparent, a song sure to be looked at as the band's heaviest to date. Constantly switching between slower, Wreath-like riffs and fast, double-bass powered bursts of energy, there's a dark energy and heaviness to this song that's almost scary at times. It also features Akersson's first solo with the band, and a slide solo by Akerfeldt. None of the moments in this song feels particularly melodic and there's always a disturbing note to it. Furthermore, the song features absolutely no clean vocals, a first since 2001's titular Blackwater Park.
This paragraph mentions Fredrik Akesson. The man in the shoes of the now-gone Peter Lindgren does a splendid job throughout this record. Something that's surprisingly in place for Opeth is Akesson's fast, sometimes shreddy solos. These are all but pure metal solos â€“ Fred here has learned a lot from Akerfeldt about the mood needed for an Opeth song. Disturbing at times, and at times melodic - all of his solos are very well-crafted. Overall, an excellent welcome for the new guitarist.
Martin Axernot, new drummer for the band, also excels in Watershed. Opeth's drumming is still very much fill-based and the beats are solid, interesting and unique. There's a bit more energy this time to the faster metal parts, often resembling their 1997 album, My Arms Your Hearse. However, the drumming in Watershed is all but metal-oriented. In Porcelain Heart, he even incorporates some off-throwing avant-garde style playing that's bound to arouse a controversy. Anyone who had any doubt of Axernot's ability to fit Opeth should be silenced by his performance on Watershed.
Another important thing that often gets overlooked is basswork. Martin Mendez, the longest-lasting band member right there with Mikael, does an amazing job here and records great-sounding, appropriate bass lines that are audible and don't always follow the guitar work. The bass, just like anything else in Watershed, serves a purpose and does so very well.
As good as it may be, Watershed does have its share of problems. While it is very creative and varied, I sometimes find myself itching for more growls. There's about a 80-20 balance between growls and clean vocals, and some songs, particularly Porcelain Heart, just cry out for them. This To Rid the Disease-inspired first single, in particular, can be considered a weak point in this album. Mikael Akerfeldt has stated before that this song has been scrapped twice before being recorded as it is â€“ and it shows. It feels very disjointed, even though each of its individual parts is excellent. A bit more work, a bit more cohesion â€“ and it could have been a real classic. Another shortcoming is that the album feels very short, but that's only because it flows so well. Opeth has managed to make a 65-minute long album feel like half an hour, so an Opeth album that's less than an hour long seems, and feels, like a tease. There's more material to find on the DVD that comes with the special edition, mainly a great cover of a blues song called Bridge of Sighs and a mellotron-oriented version of Porcelain Heart (which, surprisingly, sounds better than the original version and would sound more appropriate replacing the album version), but it's still a shame that the album itself is short. On a final note, some may find album close Hex Omega a bad song, though myself thinks otherwise. It is a very disturbing song with a powerful ending that ends the album on a perfect note.
Mr. A keeps proving he's still got what it takes to completely grab the attention of the listener, as he ruins a perfectly melodic song by playing an increasingly out-of-tune acoustic guitar. He records the band members having dinner and puts it in the end of the third track, and all this works surprisingly well. It keeps you entertained and interested in such seemingly stupid ways, the mind boggles. It's important to note that the lyrics aren't included as they are in the booklet (once again an amazing job by Travis Smith) â€“ there's a code that you must decipher to see the lyrics, and even when you do, you won't see all of them. What has been deciphered of them is very impressive. Mikael Akerfeldt has always been a very gifted lyricist and the lyrics to Watershed are no excepton.
Watershed is, overall, a very creative addition to Opeth's repertoire. It's an album of contrast, very thought-provoking and impressive in every way possible. Opeth steps in an exciting new direction, and this is most certainly a Watershed moment in their history. I wish them the best of luck in any of their future endeavors, and can't wait to see what else Mikael Akerfeldt and co might put out in the future.
Perhaps it’s in the water, perhaps it’s Roadrunner’s relentless promotion, but whatever the reason may be, the hive mind of the metal legions has been solely dedicated to the release (or, for the more impatient of us, leak) of this, the newest ‘observation’ from Opeth. They’ve got a new drummer, a new guitarist and as always, they have quite a name to live up to. Of course, it is not just the Opeth name that sets expectations for this album, but the unbelievable hype that’s been generated by people as the disc eventually leaked to the internet. Business as usual, perhaps, for a band this big but this album is an entirely different beast to what you might expect. The immediacy of opening track ‘Coil’ is one that left me quite taken aback, as if I had skipped to the middle of a song rather than just put on a CD. After what is quite a tranquil and pretty opening number, what appears to be normal service resumes, However even though the familiar sound of flattened-5th badassery is present, there is most definitely a wholly different atmosphere to that of ‘Ghost Reveries’ or indeed any other album.
Even though this album is soft to the point of it being a prog rock album with death metal playing second fiddle, the feel of these songs is entirely different. The easy way out would be to attribute this to the two new members, Fredrik Åkesson on guitars and more specifically Martin Axenrot on drums. It must be said that the Latin subtleties of previous drummer Martin Lopez is missing, but what Axenrot lacks in exotic influence, he brings forward in the form of a domineering and über-confident attitude. His ominous presence on the music can be felt as soon as he is heard on the fervent dirge introducing ‘Heir Apparent’, and is felt for a fair while after the more doom-laden passage closing ‘Hex Omega’. Now, my own personal yearning for the reunion of the Lopez-Mendez groove machine aside, Axenrot performs absolutely astonishingly. Actually, it would be unfair to say that any one of Opeth has not hit the level of excellence displayed by Axenrot as far as their own personal performance goes. Åkesson’s moments comes mostly in the form of his guitar solos, which put an interesting technical spin on some of the music and bring in a melodic style not found in Opeth before.
Despite the noticeable and significant impact that both of these new members have had on the sound, it is I feel in the keyboards and piano of Per Wiberg that the most important atmospheric change occurs. Wiberg has truly broken in as an established and vital piece of Opeth’s puzzle. On ‘Ghost Reveries’ he would lurk in the background, adding some stuff here and there to enhance the mood, whereas on ‘Watershed’ he very much is the mood. There are a surprising number of occasions where the rest of the band sits back while Per takes centre-stage with a lead melody or a solo, or surprisingly enough when miscellaneous instruments such as oboes and violins will get a moment. Opeth have always been ones to experiment, but the amount of different textures to be found on this album is quite impressive. They have branched out excessively and found themselves in some weird territory, which results in quite a few of the songs reaching a point where there is no apparent direction. As is displayed perfectly on ‘Hessian Peel’ (funnily enough, the only song to break the 10 minute mark), a brief acoustic interlude followed by a piano solo reaches a horrible anti-climax, at which point Opeth decide to bring out the metal which, as quality as it is, appears to be purposeful only as a means to continue the song. This tendency to drift around aimlessly (and I swear, ‘Porcelain Heart’ is the most rigidly structured meandering song I have ever heard) plagues a few songs on this album. When you look at the Opeth of old, the songs were drawn out but always had a definite direction to head in, and while parts of ‘Watershed’ do not have that, it is far from lost in songs like ‘Burden’ and ‘The Lotus Eater’.
Quite a shock, indeed. While the album is undeniably Opeth’s most progressive album, the way in which some of the songs progress (if they do at all) is not as convincingly professional as we have come to expect from Opeth. Every song has its moments; in fact almost all of the music found here is vastly enjoyable. Whether it’s ‘Hessian Peel’s diverse playground for bassist Martin Mendez to shine through, or the highly energetic blastbeat/clean vocal combination of ‘The Lotus Eater’, this album does have all of the makings of a quality progressive metal album, and it is simply the bands position in an experimental phase that prevents it from reaching their usual level of excellence and instead falling into a confused mess.
When talking extensively about Opeth, it is incredibly unusual to get so far without even mentioning the name of Mikael Åkerfeldt, but it is always a safe bet that his vocal performance will always blow you away. ‘Watershed’ is no exception. His death growls, while heavily underutilised, are better than they have ever been, with an astoundingly low tone reached, further extending his impressive range. Taking up a more prominent role here are his clean vocals, which are as great as ever. However, the way they are produced in quieter sections can be quite undefined, and sink further into the middle of the mix than lead vocals really should be. It is no big problem, although a little more power in some of the longer and more repetitive sections would have done wonders.
Now, one department where this album meets and even exceeds expectations is in the lyrics. The booklet that comes in the bizarrely packaged special edition does not contain any lyrics, instead opting for suggestive imagery and some mysterious code. However, fans transcriptions have been accepted fairly quickly as what is being said by Mikael, and the lyrics are absolutely fantastic. They take the familiar Opeth imagery and poetic feel and mould it around one very large and incredibly intriguing concept. While I’m sure definitive meanings for all of the lyrics will be discovered over time, ‘Watershed’ seems to be a concept album concerned with a family plagued by bad luck and the death of a mother figure. Throughout the album there appear to be different perspectives used and events referenced (most notably the ‘conversation’ between Akerfeldt and guest vocalist Natalie Lorichs) which all add up to quite an involving and moving experience.
Well, what can I say? ‘Watershed’ has been receiving universal acclaim, and ratings as a career highlight from many fans, however there is a certain coldness about it and a slightly unfocused feel particularly on the latter half of the album that puts me off. There are leads and vocal parts all over this album that are typical Opeth, however there is just a mystery X factor that is holding back the full emotional rollercoaster that albums like ‘Blackwater Park’ displayed so well. Even on that oh-so-exciting first listen, after 3 years of waiting, after the frankly exhilarating album highlight ‘Heir Apparent’, the album as a whole does not feel quite right. I have faith that this road Opeth are one will lead them to more great heights, however ‘Watershed’ is not one of them.
What would we do if not for Opeth? Their presence in a metal world starved for integrity and intelligence and beauty is akin to that of a beacon shining through the dark clouds, a gem amidst the rough, and a songbird sitting with the crows. These artistic visionaries have finally come back to the forefront with their newest album, aptly titled Watershed. What does it mean? I don't know. I am just a barbaric metal fan who probably can't comprehend such highly sophisticated artistic expressions. It is very much aptly titled though. The title - combined with the cover that doesn't quite go with it - signifies every pseudo-intellectual's wet dream. "Ooh, Watershed," they muse. "Since I don't know what it means, there must be some great, philosophical truth behind it. IT MUST BE GENIUS! Now I feel better about myself again."
Some people will tell you never to judge a book by its cover, but in a lot of cases you can anyway, and this is one of those cases. I never indulged myself in Opeth's vast repertoire of sophistication myself, finding the little bits I had heard too boring and pretentious to warrant more than one listen, but I couldn't escape this one, not with all the hype surrounding it. The basic formula for the music is like nothing I've ever heard before, although if you're one of those people who will mistake that for a statement of praise, then you'd be wrong. I'm having fits even trying to describe this, as the band never stays in one mode long enough. They have some heavy riffs, some melodeath-y growling, some emotive clean vocals, a lot of acoustic passages, and lots and lots of drum fills. You could definitely get away with calling this progressive, as from what I understand, the band has progressed from their older efforts on this one, but this is the kind of Prog I really dislike.
The main problem here is the songwriting, which is just bad, bad, bad on all accounts. Opeth, like such aberrations as UneXpect, seem to be under the impression that having a million different parts and instrumental bits strung together with all the subtlety of a drunken sailor equals a good song. However intriguing their intentions, and however good their musicianship, though, that isn't the case, and it never will be. In fact, I don't think there is one real song on here at all, aside from the acoustic opener, just six long, drawn out jam sessions with lyrics sung over them. Asking me to differentiate between these would be like asking a blind man to find Waldo: it is out of my hands. I mean, if you were to listen to this whole album completely devoid of bias or knowledge of the band that made it, you'd hear the opening track "Coil," which is a three minute acoustic number with soft, clean vocals and no aggression at all. Then it segues into "Heir Apparent," which despite being the name of an 80s Speed Metal band, has a load of doomy, aggressive riffs that resonate in your ears as if you're right up next to them while they're playing it. If that isn't enough of a jarring change, the fact that this same song deteriorates into a mess of jazzy time changes and progressively-tinged guitar licks will definitely scare off the uninitiated listener. "The Lotus Eater" starts off slow, and then jumps into a frenzy of blastbeating madness, except for a change, there are clean vocals layered over this section, rather than the harsh growling one would expect. An interesting idea, but it takes more than things like this to make a good album. There are a lot of select good ideas here, but none of them are stretched out into good songs, and so Watershed is mostly just tedious to listen to.
Afterwards, the rest of the album falls into a pattern of inane musical shifts like this, so much that the randomness and unexpectedness of it all becomes very expected and tiresome, thus ruining the intended effect. I must also single out "The Porcelain Heart" as the most annoying song here, simply for the fact that it made me turn off this album the first time I tried to listen to it.
The other problem here is that this band tries so hard to be emotional and heartfelt that they go completely overboard and their ship sinks. Mikael Akerfeldt is a very technically proficient vocalist, with a nice growl and clean vocals that are as crystal-clear and shiny as they come, except he shouldn't be trying to sing such ambitious material. Just listen to the opener "Coil" for a perfect summation of what I'm talking about: he does sing very cleanly and melodically, but he's trying so damn hard to sound emotional and sad that I'm almost embarrassed for him. This whole thing is so overdone and weepy that it crosses the fatal brink of bathos and goes completely off the edge. Pretty much every spot on this album where the clean vocals pop up suffers from this problem, and the rest of the album is as sterile and dry as a newly cleaned hospital ward. Anyone who seriously thinks Watershed is some sort of emotional pinnacle of modern rock music needs to go listen to the latest works by Kamelot or Novembers Doom, two bands with an infinitely better grasp of this sort of thing.
And last, but not least, this album is simply boring and lame and I don't want to listen to it again.
I don't see any reason to like this album. It isn't catchy, it isn't cohesive, it isn't even that beautiful. It's just...there. Taking up space in the world. The resources used to make this album could've surely been used for something more helpful, like...something for helping homeless children. Something like that. In fact, Opeth could very well be doing much better and more helpful things than making music like this themselves. I can't really recommend this to anyone unless you happen to be one of those people who feels more artistic and sophisticated due to listening to stuff you don't understand. Trust me, there's nothing to understand here.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
As you listen more and more to a genre, you get jaded. It’s unavoidable. When you first listen to Death Metal, every band that plays above 160 BPM and growls is incredible. It is only with time that your standards raise. After you’ve been listening to a genre for a long time, something needs to be genuinely good to impress you. You look for the bands that differentiate and experiment, and try and avoid the thousandth Suffocation clone.
Recently, this process began for me. I’d been into death metal for a while, and while I was certainly not bored of it, the luster of it was beginning to wear off. For a band to really get through to me, it had to do one of two things. Either be really good (Hate, Hail of Bullets) or be different (Opeth).
It wasn’t just with death metal that I began to crave more variety and quality. I was getting into more progressive and atmospheric music in general, and while I had quite a few bands like Xasthur, Ahab, Arcturus, Emperor, Athiest, Blotted Science, etc…There was one band that was missing from my collection, Opeth.
It was right after the release of this album that I decided to try them out. I had just gotten home from school, and my step brother proudly told me, ‘I just got Watershed, its great!’ It occurred to me, that I never had really tried Opeth. Immediately, I got the album and began to listen.
Like with most revered bands, I was expecting one of two things to happen. Either I would instantly fall in love with it, or I would hate it. Oddly enough, neither did. I heard the album, and didn’t really have any strong feelings either way. I thought the light parts were kinda boring, but not too bad. I thought the heavy parts were cool, but not great. Really, the only song that made an impression on me was The Lotus Eater. (Which is still my favorite track)
For most albums, that would be there fate. I would forget about them, and then after a few months passed I would see them while browsing through my music. I’d probably think, ‘Oh, that’s that band that I never bothered to listen to again. Couldn’t have been very good, then,’ and deleted them.
With Watershed, on the other hand, things went differently. I kept itching to hear it again. I put it on, expecting not to find anything different, but to my surprise it was as if I was listening to a different album. The second it finished, I put it back on again. By the end of the third play through, I was in love with this band.
Since I was never a fan of Opeth before this album, I didn’t know about the numerous member changes that had taken place. Now that I’ve acquired their discography and heard them countless times, I know about things like the departure of drummer Martin Lopez, but at the time all I had to analyze was the music itself. Of course, when discussing an album like this one, the music itself is easily good enough to stand up to any sort of scrutiny.
The first track, Coil, is all acoustic (It even features female vocals). That was one of my first surprises when listening to this band, and if you’re new to them, you’ll have to get over it too. This band is frequently referred to as ‘Progressive Death Metal.’ Forget that, right now. They may have growls, but growls do not equal death metal on their own. While this is one of their less death metal-y albums, none of their albums are purely death metal. I came into this expecting Nile, death metal with slight acoustic breaks every once and a while. That is not even close to what this band actually is. Instead, they are at least half acoustic (or clean electric, it varies) and their vocals (on this album) are usually clean.
The heaviness picks up considerably with the second track, Heir Apparent. It starts with a doomy riff, and throughout the song it is quite heavy. Like most of their songs, the heavy sections are broken up by countless acoustic bits and parts with jazzy riffs to add variety. Seems like an odd combo, but take my word for it, it works perfectly.
The next song is The Lotus Eater, coincidently my favorite song from the album. Here, the contrast between light and heavy is at its best. After a furious intro and a growled section, the song continues for a few minutes carried by an incredible riff. While not quite death metal in nature, it is easily one of my favorite riffs that I have ever heard. Over the riff, is clean singing that is so beautifully contrasted with the energetic riff played below it that it instantly earns the song five stars.
I won’t go through a track by track review, as on an album like this you really are meant to experience the whole. I’m not saying that you can’t jump around a bit, but the first few times you hear it, you should stick to the track order and let the changes come in sequence.
For the middle section of the album, there are no weak songs (although Porcelain Heart is probably my least favorite off of the album), Burden is all acoustic and while good, suffers from the lack of contrast.
Now we arrive at the last two songs, and you’ll have to bear with me while I describe Hessian Peel, as it is my third favorite song off of this album. For the first two thirds or so, the song is all clean. The lyrics are simply breathtaking. The first verse: Will the children cry, when their mother dies? Is probably my favorite vocal performance of all time. The heavy part is good, but doesn’t quite match up to the second and third songs off of the album.
Hex Omega is a good song, although I don’t think that I would have picked it to end the album. While it is good, it is a typical Opeth song (so awesome), but I believe that it and Hessian Peel should have been switched in their order.
The production is excellent. It is crystal clear, and every instrument is audible and has its place. There is no single overbearing instrument, and no bad tone to be found anywhere on the album.
(As I said earlier) The first time that I heard this album, I had no idea who was playing on it. I knew Mikael Åkerfeldt, and that was it. My opinions on the instruments weren’t influenced by the people themselves, seeing as I had no idea who the people were at the time.
The guitars are great throughout the entire album. They range from acoustic, to clean electric, to death metal, to technical leads, and always excel. The leads are melodic and tasteful, the riffing is heavy when it needs to be and soft when it needs to be, and the overall effect of the guitars is perfect.
The bass is good. It is audible, but it never does much besides a few fills here and there. Compared to the intricate bass work of their early albums, it is disappointing, but there is nothing wrong with it and it supports the songs well.
The drums are very good. They are heavy when they need to be, employing some blast beats and double bass drum at times, but never overusing them. During the soft parts they don’t spoil the atmosphere, but reinforce it.
The last instrument that needs to be discussed is the vocals. They are incredible. In my opinion, Mikael Åkerfeldt is second only to Hansi Kürsch (of blind guardian) when it comes to cleans. With regards to his growls, I have no idea where the cries of, ‘Generic! Generic!’ are coming from. They sound like nothing I have ever heard before, closer to the barking of a dog than to the human voice at times. (Perhaps distortion was used, I don’t know. If so, this would be one of the few times it was done well.) As previously stated, the lyrics are excellent, although I think that Still Life rivals it for the best Opeth lyrics.
Overall, this is an incredible album. It is not a death metal album, and to go into it expecting that is foolish. Instead, it is a lot more like poetry (in musical form, I guess). The instruments range from hauntingly beautiful to heavy and the lyrics are poetic and perfectly done.
Complaint wise, I can’t think of anything. The album is long (54 minutes) but it is most certainly not overlong. There are no bad songs, and there are no bad moments or wince worthy lines.
This album is recommended to ANYONE who is into extreme metal, and if you aren’t, I still recommend it. I don’t think that I could conceive of a better gateway album. For newcomers to Opeth, this is a good starting point (Or, if you are coming from the realms of Death Metal, you might want to start with My Arms, Your Hearse). If you are a seasoned Opeth lover and don’t have this album yet, get it now. This album is tied only with My Arms, Your Hearse for my favorite Opeth album, and from one of my favorite bands that is saying quite a bit. This is easily one of (if not the) best album of ’08. In short, GET THIS NOW.
Wow, this album really got me by surprise! After the masterpiece “Ghost Reveries” (and releasing lots of albums with long, long songs), I thought that Opeth was losing inspiration and creativity. After all, it's hard to top a piece like “Ghost Reveries”, but “Watershed” turned out to be an amazing record, a record that still sounds like typical Opeth but that also introduces new things to the band's sound (remember, innovation is good!).
First of all, there are two things that made me feel very anxious about “Watershed”. The departure of the excellent Martin Lopez and of the essential Peter Lindgren, the latter the only musician, together with Mikael Akerfeldt, that already played with the band when the first album, “Orchid”, was released, twelve years ago. The biggest consequence of these departures is the excessive control of the band by Mikael Akerfeldt. In the past, Mikael Akerfeldt wrote all the lyrics, but the music was composed by the [i]band[/i]; Martin Lopez was responsible of creating the drum beats, Mendez the bass lines and Lindgren some solos and riffs.
Now, Opeth isn't a [i]band[/i] anymore, it's more like a solo project of Akerfeldt. The music is no more composed by the whole group, now it's just him who is allowed to compose. The new members of the band don't have any writing credits on the record (okay, the new guitar player co-wrote “Porcelain Heart”, but that's just ONE track) and the lyrics are, obviously, all penned by Mikael. I was expecting this thing to turn the record into an authentic disaster. Fortunately, I was wrong.
But wait – first, let's talk a bit about the two new members: Fredrik Akesson and Martin Axenrot. About the latter, I was extremely upset about him; after all, Lopez is a terrific drummer that was absolutely essential to the band's sound on the other records. After listening to “The Roundhouse Tapes”, I concluded that Axenrot was a good drummer, which was obvious, but he lacked something, maybe that killer tone that Lopez has. On “Watershed”, he proves that he is not a Lopez-clone, that's for sure, but he's great nevertheless, his performance is very technical at times and there are beats and patterns that are amazingly great. “Hessian Peel” is where he shows his skills the most, with soft beats on the intro and some very effective double-bass parts here and there. “Burden” shows him adopting a more simple, straight-forward, but still good approach and he even tries some blast-beats on “Lotus Eater” and poli-rhythmic fills on “Porcelain Heart”. I heard many people criticizing the blast beats and poli-rhythms, saying that they didn't fit with the band's sound, though. I strongly disagree with that, the band surely never tried something like that, but some originality is a good thing, don't you think so?
About Akesson, the guitar playing is very similar to the other Opeth records, maybe more solo-focused this time, but that's a good thing. Akerfeldt and Akesson solo more this time, some bluesy solos on the calmer parts and aggressive ones on the heavier parts, that's what you can expect. Another important thing about “Watershed” is the fantastic use of keyboards; on “Ghost Reveries” they were one of the most important instruments, because they were very audible, too audible at times, but it turned out to be great, because the keyboards gave to that album a warmer atmosphere that isn't very common on the other Opeth records. This time, the keyboards are more laid back, complementing the other performances very well, especially on the softer parts, where they play an important role (the softer part of “Porcelain Heart” or “Hessian Pell” are both dominated by the excellent keyboard lines that perfectly complement the acoustic guitars). The bass guitar is audible this time, especially during “Hessian Peel”, which is great, since some good bass licks always add something new to the songs.
Another important thing is that, like I have already mentioned in my “Ghost Reveries” review, Opeth is now slowly becoming a true, 100%, progressive metal band, instead of a “progressive death metal” or “extreme progressive metal” band. The death metal elements are still here, but the double-bass attacks, that made albums like “Still Life” or “Orchid” what they are, are less used, and so are the growls. Here, Akerfeldt uses his clean voice more often and seems to avoid growls, a thing that can be clearly recognized during the heavy parts of “The Lotus Eater”, when he uses his clean voice while Axe is playing blast-beats.
Anyways, the heavy side of Opeth is present here with basically three songs: “Heir Apparent”, “The Lotus Eater” and “Hex Omega”. “Heir Apparent” is one of my favourite songs of the album, being very, very heavy and containing a lot of nice double-bass parts. The riffs are powerful and the growls are ferocious; probably the fastest song of the record. “The Lotus Eater” is another favourite and it's hard for me to pick the best aggressive song of the album, since those two tunes are both amazing. The highlight of this song is the beautiful breakdown, which contains a funky/jazzy part that is just AWESOME. You have got to listen to that breakdown, folks, top notch stuff. About the closer, “Hex Omega”, it sounds like a pretty standard Opeth song to me and it's the only one that I don't like. It isn't horrible, though.
The soft side is present with “Coil”, “Burden” and “Porcelain Heart. “Coil” works as the intro of the record, featuring a duet between Akerfeldt and a female singer, which sounds better than what I expected. Not a masterpiece, but a beautiful song to begin the album. “Burden” sounds like some progressive rock ballad out of the 70's; the keyboards absolutely dominate this song, with some nice solos and catchy riffs. The vocal performance of Mikael is also ASTOUNDING, it's incredible how he improved his singing over the years. “Porcelain Heart” is a song that I consider somewhat calm, despite it contains some bone crushing riffage. Again, the vocals are the best part of it. Anyways, if you are looking for a detailed description of this track, you can read my review of it, as a single.
And now, the best track... HESSIAN PEEL! The title is somewhat stupid (I don't know what it means, in fact), but the song is just amazing. It is the longest tune and has a very epic feeling throughout it, comprising lots of different sections, ranging from aggressive to beautiful, from raw to soft. The keyboards play again an important role, especially on the acoustic parts. Because of the existence of all those sections within this tune, i don't consider it calm nor heavy, it's like an hybrid of both.
The production is simply great, almost everything is audible, even the bass guitar, my only complaint is about the bass drums of Axenrot, since they are barely audible. Otherwise, excellent work.
So, all in all, Opeth does it again. This piece is just amazing and despite containing some moments that are reminiscent of Opeth's past works (the main riff of “Porcelain Heart” reminds me of “A Fair Judgement” and there is a section of it that reminds me of “A Grand Conjuration”), but the album still contains fresh aspects and elements, like the duet on “Coil” and the funky parts on “The Lotus Eater”. Akerfeldt is a terrific vocalist and here he proves it again, the guitar playing is great, pretty much in the vein of “Ghost Reveries”, the drum work is nothing short of amazing and the bass is always present and audible. The record is also very varied, with all the breakdwons, calm and heavy parts within the songs and the whole listening experience is also better because of that. This album is more accessible than the other Opeth works too, since the songs aren't so long and calm songs like “Coil” and “Burden” can be appreciated for people who aren't into metal or extreme metal at all, that's for sure.
Anyways, I don't give away ratings above 90% easily, so this record is absolutely essential and recommended to anyone into progressive metal. If you love the death metal side of Opeth, I'm not sure you'll like this, since the calm parts absolutely dominate “Watershed”; it's a great record, nevertheless. A bit different than the traditional Opeth record, but good... VERY, VERY GOOD.
Best MOMENT of the CD:
-the jazzy/funky part on “The Lotus Eater”. But there are also lots of other nice moments, they are almost countless.
Great work, Opeth, brilliant!
Opeth was more or less my gateway into extreme music, so this isn't a first timer here - I'm a long time fan. Granted, I've faded away from their music, but I still consider Damnation and Ghost Reveries to be fantastic albums, with BWP having its moments. And this album sounds like a mix of Ghost Reveries and Damnation! So why am I so iffy on it?
Let's start with the good. Mikael Akerfeldt sounds fantastic as usual - his voice has developed very well since Opeth's beginnings, his clean vocals in particular. Axe, the new drummer does an equally fantastic job. He's lacking the jazzy, almost lazy touch that made Martin Lopez so fantastic, but otherwise he lays down a near flawless performance. I'd only point to some pretty lame fills at the end of Hex Omega and his reliance on the RLBBRLBB styled fills for heavier parts. The performances all around are great - the band sounds tight on all fronts. One last note on performances, some of the solos are fantastic and really fit, but Opeth has always had some great solos.
One thing I did appreciate on album was the slight orchestral experimentation, used very well, for example, in the opener, Coil, and the middle of Porcelain Heart ('I see blood spilled...'). Overall, the keyboards are used very well on the album and really add to the vibes.
Now the bad. The songwriting borderline sucks. Opeth is a band of great ideas with no structure, flow or logic to them. There are few good transitions in the album, giving the album a chaotic, incoherent feel that just doesn't sound good. Examples are numerous: 2:05 - 2:24 of The Lotus Eater, are you kidding? That was retarded with the chord clusters. 2:52 - 2:56 is pretty bad too, but luckily the riffs are similar enough to not sound totally stupid. And around 5:40 - 5:50 in Lotus Eater? Now that's fucking stupid. We go from ominous acoustic passages with a dark bluesy solo to stupid sounding chicken funk? Transitioned by a drum groove that comes out of nowhere? Was that necessary? Then to the next part, we go from chicken funk to a typical dark Opeth riff like magic!
Porcelain Heart is pretty bad with transitions and structure too. It abuses sudden silences, fade ins and outs and floaty solos to transition from random unconnected idea to random unconnected idea. The ideas are loosely connected by tempo, but that's it. And Hessian Peel? We have a pretty good transition in the beginning, but that all fades out around the five minute mark with an acoustic lick and some piano. Then we get an organ note being hammered on with a simple rhythm in the background, and suddenly we're in death metal. That's right, Opeth goes from shuffle blues to death metal with the use of an organ lick. Brilliant my ass. Hey wait, 7:27 in Hessian Peel - not bad! Could do without the silence, but it was a good transition! Logical and good-sounding.
As for the songs, as mentioned, Porcelain Heart and Lotus Eater both have terrible songwriting. Porcelain Heart goes up somewhat for having that amazing orchestral part in the middle, the 'I see blood spilled' that sounds like a moody passage from The Secret Garden. Absolutely lovely melody. Coil is a nice opener, one of the stronger offerings of the album. Heir Apparent flows pretty nicely and has some genuinely heavy riffs. One problem - the song should have ended at 7:20. Instead, Opeth tacks some lame repetitive riff for another 1:20 until it finally ends. This song would quite good if it weren't for that...I just skip it.
Burden pisses me off because it's Opeth trying to Nightingale and barely pulling it off. Swano is a better singer than you Akerfeldt, but nice try. Also, they have a Porcupine Tree-esque piano intro (think 'Sentimental') and a ridiculous Boston/Kansas styled keyboard solo. Good solo, just so ripped off it's not even funny. And from 5:10 to 6:15 is again one crappy riff repeated again and again, then we get a decent acoustic solo, then the guitar being detuned. Cute, but annoying after subsequent listens. This song should have ended at 5:30. Hessian Peel, lots of good ideas and lots of really bad ones. The beginning parts are good, but the heavy parts suck (typical for Opeth). And that damn organ. Finally, Hex Omega is a chill song. Besides the riff at the beginning which has nothing to do with the rest of the song (why?! stupid!), this song meanders along comfortably and gains some good momentum near the end. Probably the tightest, best-written song on here if you take out the beginning riff.
So there you go. Lots of good ideas, great performances with some really average songwriting and transitions. Mostly the conflict and problems come with the differences between black and white. Opeth used to do it better, like on BWP, but as the soft stuff got proggier, the heavier stuff keeps sounding stupider. Opeth, please please please become a prog rock band. Your heavy stuff mostly sucks, but your lighter prog stuff is really really good. And mixing the two has gotten ugly with age.
-30 for some retarded song writing, -10 for typically bad heavy riffs, -5 for some boring, repetitive riffs.
When the album leaked about a month back, I'm not gonna lie, I downloaded it. Then I listened to it once. Then I deleted the files. I was confused. This was not the Opeth I was used to, not the sound, not feeling. It had the elements but there was something missing.
I decided to give it another chance and went out and bought the album. I popped it in and was blown away. I realized that it wasn't something missing, it was something new. An organic feel, a way of making you unable to guess what would happen next. It is an album of surprises and all of the surprises work.
But there are a few problems.
I loved Martin Lopez. I felt that he was a natural, organic drummer, and flat out amazing. Now he's gone, replaced by Axe as they're calling him, and damn if Axe isn't heavy handed. Subtlety is not his strong suit, as 2:15 of Porcelain Heart shows. But once I got used to him, once I stopped comparing him to Lopez, I realized that he is a great drummer. He has a way of exploring what his drums can do for a song, and it really lends to the air of surprise.
Self-plagiarism is another issue. There are a few riffs that smack of older Opeth songs, 3:58 of Porcelain Heart especially. But, after a few listens, it feels natural, it feels right, and it becomes less and less of an issue.
The album is amazing, once you get used to the differences. There is no feeling that the album should have cooked a bit longer, as in Ghost Reveries. There is no feeling of tiredness, of sloth. It all feels fresh, natural, new, interesting, and intriguing. The vocals are excellent, the guitar work is great, the drums are interesting, new, and push the line, the bass is solid although I would have liked Mendez to be a bit more in your face, and the keyboards are wonderful. Definitely a must have for any fan. If you don't like it immediately, don't throw it in the trash. Keep giving it spins, and eventually it will all fall into place.
Favorite Tracks: The Lotus Eater (clean vocals and blast beats combined, as well as the section at 5:50... all in the same song!), Hessian Peel, Coil, Heir Apparent.
...an obvious reference to the tears of joy you will cry when you hear this masterpiece?
Well, we all know the band. Opeth has been near the top of the metal world for years now, which should come to be expected from such brilliant song-writers. All eyes were on them to see which direction they would take after their last album, Ghost Reveries, effectively split their fanbase while securing Opeth's spot amongst the mainstream greats of metal.
Well, first of all, I guess we should have expected Watershed to be a lighter offering than classic albums like Still Life and Blackwater Park. Like Ghost Reveries, Watershed has an obvious focus on clean singing and passages. That isn't to say it doesn't bring the heaviness in sections too though; the second track, Heir Apparent, will definitely satisfy fans looking for a return to the Blackwater Park era sound. Hell, when you have Mikael Åkerfeldt doing all your vocals, I don't think you care what style he is using. Some minor vocal experiments (see the clean vocals in The Lotus Eater and the female vocals on Coil) help keep the music interesting and fresh.
The guitars are played and arranged incredibly, as usual. I would describe most of the guitarwork on the album as having a certain urgent quality to them. I also noticed a lot more dissonant passages that kind of remind me of Opeth's older albums like Morningrise. I also feel that the keyboards were used much more effectively as a means of accenting certain sections. These instruments together make Watershed one of the most full-sounding Opeth offerings to date.
The drumming is definitely a huge highlight here. There are some tasteful blast beat and double bass passages on the album, but most of the drumming is very progressive and interesting. Fans of jazz drumming will definitely love the performance given on Watershed. Of course, one can pretty much assume the above information is true of any Opeth album. I particularly like the drumwork near the 6 minute mark of The Lotus Eater.
Long-time Opeth fans, or even metal fans in general, should all give Watershed a thorough listen. While continuing much in the tried and true Opeth style, the album still demonstrates a lot of musical growth for the band. I find that the band really showed that not only can they run with the metal greats of today, but also that they are a landmark for the progressive genre in general. Tasteful reprises and ambience only add to the overall musical experience and, believe me, this album is definitely an experience.
Stand-out tracks: If anyone can list any fewer than 7 songs here, let me know, because I certainly can't.
Opeth have been around since 1995 and with the release of Orchid in that same year, they set the benchmark for creative, progressive death metal. With each subsequent release, Åkerfeldt and company have improved dramatically, adding new layers to their already complex sound. Fast-forward to 2008 and the greatly anticipated Watershed is sitting on my desk just begging to be opened and listened too. Soon after I popped in the CD, I was overwhelmed with the sheer songwriting prowess and skill demonstrated on Watershed.
The album opener, “Coil” is (to the best of my knowledge) the first of their songs to feature prominent use of female vocals. That, coupled with some excellent acoustic guitar, creates a very light and accessible intro. The lyrics are bittersweet, “when I get out of here, when I leave you behind, I found that the years passed us by” and with some soft twinkling guitar you will be lulled into a false sense of security only to have your head explode from the pure brutality of the next track, “Heir Apparent”. I didn’t think Opeth was still capable of such mind melting heaviness (see 4:10 into the song), but as with much on this album I was pleasantly surprised.
As always Mikael Åkerfeldt, uses his creativity to craft epic soundscapes that bleed into vicious, sonic beasts of metallic fury. “Hessian Peel” is the best example of Opeth’s evolution on Watershed. Incorporating synths to a level not seen before on an Opeth record, “Hessian Peel” runs the gamut of aural emotion. Tumultuous riffs give off an air of berserker violence that is tempered by the soft acoustic and violin sections with a hefty dose of schizophrenic soloing and screams being thrown in for good measure.
If I have one complaint about Watershed it is that some of the riffs, such as 6:10 in “Porcelain Heart”, are lifted directly from older Opeth songs. I am all for riff recycling when it is a concept album and the riff is meant to evoke a certain feeling or to tie parts of the disc together, however that is not the case on Watershed. There are other songs with minor self-plagiarism problems, however considering those sections came from previous Opeth songs, it’s not that big of deal, and in the scope of things, a trifling complaint.
The great thing about this album is that I could easily write a paragraph describing everything each song. From the organ solo in “Burden” to the haunting piano melody in “Porcelain Heart” to the soulful violin in “Hessian Peel”, Opeth have created a lasting testament to their skill and deftness in songwriting. You never can quite predict what will happen next on this record, and that’s the way I feel it should be. I’m not going to attempt to explain anymore of what happens. Just know that if you like Opeth you will enjoy this record immensely.