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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