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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.