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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.