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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.