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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.