Review Summary: Opeth's new album is great. Really.
There isn't much to say about Opeth that hasn't already been said. They're from Sweden. They write epic, extreme, progressive metal. Everybody seems to like them except a bunch of people on Metal Archives, (who like Dark Angel so they're easy to ignore, of course). They formed eighteen years ago, and despite a few miscues they've been quite successful. Are they overrated? Maybe. But they don't often let down their fans, and for that reason even I fell victim to Watershed
's hype machine. Opeth's ninth studio album doesn't disappoint either. While Watershed
isn't in the band's upper echelon of albums – a spot reserved for Damnation
, Blackwater Park
, and Still Life
- it's still a quality record that meets, and at times exceeds, the standard Opeth has set over the years.
opens up rather differently than Opeth's past works. "Coil" is solely an acoustic track, but unlike the material featured on Damnation
, it isn't quite as dark or depressing. That isn't to say that it's a light and fluffy song, as it retains some of the melancholic elements from Opeth's 2003 album, and combines it with slight Nick Drake-isms. One of the band's most powerful opening tracks, along with "Windowpane" and "The Leper Affinity", "Coil" is built on the subtlety of guitarists Mikael Akerfeldt and Fredrik Akesson, as well as the memorable, surprisingly catchy clean vocals of the former. Aside from the song's tone, it isn't all that different from Damnation
, as the Akerfeldt's soothing performance compliments the gentle guitar play extremely well.
"Heir Apparent" and "The Lotus Eater" pick up the pace of the album and send it in a completely different direction. "Heir Apparent" is built in a typical Opeth fashion, sporting blistering riffs, accented by brief passages of clean guitar, and melodic harmonies. Akerfeldt growls and roars throughout the entirety of the near nine-minute track, retaining his spot as my favourite vocalist in death metal. Sure, the song may be a standard outing for Opeth, but they've done an excellent job with it. "The Lotus Eater", on the other hand, isn't quite as orthodox for the band. Rather placing emphasis on power and brutality as its predecessor did, "The Lotus Eater" relies more on the band's creative song writing quirks. On several occasions, the song fades out briefly, before a driving bridge brings the heaviness back into play. After a proggy solo four minutes in, the song settles down dramatically, indulging in an atmospheric mellotron based passage. The song is a chilling piece, and maintains an air of mystique. Honestly, each of "Coil", "Heir Apparent", and "The Lotus Eater" offer up some of Opeth's most entertaining moments, and never really lose their edge, despite lasting over twenty minutes.
isn't infallible, however. The band runs into trouble during the album's middle section, though not so much with "Burden" as it does with "Porcelain Heart". Perhaps the closest Opeth gets to 70s progressive rock, "Burden" isn't all that bad, but does have its drawbacks. The keyboard solo just over two minutes into the song is more bothersome than it is interesting. Even more unnecessary is the song's final minute, in which a meandering acoustic passage is increasingly de-tuned. The band's decision to end the song on this note is kind of confusing, as it sounds really stupid, and ruins the song's atmosphere in the process. "Porcelain Heart" is even more head scratching. Akerfeldt sounds like a parody of himself, both lyrically and vocally, as he whines "I wrote down a name (and read it twice) / I wallow in shame
" and "I promised to stay (and held my grief) / I went far away
". Honestly, it has to be one of most embarrassing moments of Opeth's career. The rest of the band bails Akerfeldt out half way through the song with an admittedly cool instrumental bridge, highlighted by its creepy guitar leads. The lullaby section which sounds reminiscent to a weaker version of Iron Maiden's "The Legacy" follows is also rather enjoyable, but neither really justify the song's length, which could have been at least two minutes shorter.
The remaining two tracks, "Hessian Peel" and "Hex Omega", close off Watershed
on a high note. Both songs utilize beautiful soundscapes, based more around atmospheric acoustic structures than gruelling death metal. Opeth isn't afraid to amp up the heaviness, of course, but the distortion brings little in the way of aggression and power. Which is alright of course; we got enough of that in nine minutes of "Heir Apparent". Though Watershed
is one of the easiest Opeth albums to listen to, it may take a few listens to appreciate it for what it really is. Essentially, if you're a fan of Opeth, you'll love this. If not, it's status quo, I guess.